Medicine: Awakened with a new face: successful face transplant after attempting suicide

Transplantation: Man is given a new face after attempting suicide
About ten years ago, American Andy Sandness was so depressed that he tried to kill himself. He shot himself in the head with a gun and survived; his face has been disfigured since then. A few months ago, a dead donor's face was transplanted. Now the 31-year-old could see the result for the first time.

Transplant medicine made great strides
Transplant medicine has made tremendous progress worldwide in the past decades. For example, doctors in the United States have managed to sensationally transplant a skull cap. The first successful penis transplant was carried out in South Africa. In the meantime, a head transplant is even planned. Face transplants have been carried out since 2005. An American whose face was disfigured after attempting suicide also benefited from this experience.

Attempted suicide failed
It was just before Christmas in 2006 when the then depressed 21-year-old Andy Sandness decided to end his life, reports the AP news agency. He shot himself in the head - and survived. However, his face was largely destroyed.

Now the 31-year-old has undergone a face transplant, the first to be performed at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. For this, he received his nose, cheeks, mouth, jaw, chin and even teeth from his donor.

He cannot speak clearly yet, but when he saw his new face for the first time, he wrote on a notepad: "Far beyond my expectations".

Surgeon Samir Mardini replied: "You don't know how happy that makes us."

Patient without nose and jaw
When he tried to commit suicide, Sandness knew immediately that he had made a big mistake. According to the AP, he already begged the officers when he arrived at his apartment in Wyoming, USA: "Please, please don't let me die!"

He was reportedly treated in two hospitals before being transferred to the Mayo Clinic, where he met the plastic surgeon Mardini, a face reconstruction specialist.

According to the news agency, the patient had no nose or jaw, his mouth was smashed, only two teeth were left. In the clinic, his upper and lower jaw was rebuilt with bones, muscles and skin from the hip and one leg. The facial bones were connected with titanium plates and screws.

Mouth was too small for a spoon
Around four and a half months later - after about eight operations - Sandness returned to his home town of Newcastle and started working again. However, he did not lead a “normal” life. He avoided eye contact with children in order not to scare them, he had almost no social life and often withdrew completely.

The young man always had to cut his food into small pieces because his mouth was too small for a spoon. And the nasal prosthesis that he was wearing kept falling off.

"You never fully accept it," said Sandness. "At some point you wonder if there aren't any other options."

In the following years, he regularly came to the Mayo Clinic for examinations, where he was finally informed in 2012 that the hospital wanted to start a face transplant program.

Mardini told him at the time that he could be an ideal patient, but should think carefully about it, since only about two dozen face transplants have been done worldwide.

First successful face transplant
The first successful face transplant was carried out in 2005, and the French patient passed away last year. A 27-hour operation in Barcelona caused a sensation when a 45-year-old got a new face.

And just a few months ago, a successful face transplant was performed at a firefighter at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center (USA) who had suffered severe burns during an operation.

The surgeon Eduardo D. Rodriguez said at the time in a message that the doctors were amazed at the patient's recovery, "all our expectations were exceeded".

The donor's widow was initially skeptical
Sandness chose the operating room. "If you look the way I looked, and if you work the way I worked, you pounce on every glimmer of hope that comes up," he said, according to the AP. "And that was the operation that would enable me to live a normal life again."

Before he was accepted into the new program, however, Sandness had to undergo a rigorous evaluation by psychiatrists and social workers, which of course also included his earlier attempted suicide.

The experts thought he was suitable, and just five months after he was added to the waiting list for organ donations, Sandness was notified in June last year that a donor had been found for him.

It was a young man who had shot himself. At the deceased's request, his 19-year-old widow released his heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and face for organ donation. However, the decision to donate the face was difficult for her: “At first I was skeptical. I didn't want to run around and suddenly see his face, ”said the young woman.

But the doctors assured her that the recipient still had his own eyes and forehead and would therefore never look the same as the deceased.

56-hour operation marathon
With the help of the donation, the Mayo Clinic team completely rebuilt Sandness' face in a 56-hour operation marathon under the eyes last summer.

The young man is said to be particularly happy today to have a nose and a mouth again. According to the information, he can eat steak and pizza again. He also enjoys his anonymity.

Sandness said that when he recently attended a hockey game, he was "just another face in the crowd." The mere memory of it makes him smile. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: World first face transplant: meeting the man who wears my brothers face. 60 Minutes Australia (January 2022).