Over the past decade face transplant surgeries have been done in civilian hospitals, but it has been the U.S. Defense Department, with its obvious interest in such reconstructive surgery, that has been picking up much of the tab.
As part of this work, service members, inactive troops and retirees with facial wounds or injuries serious enough that they might consider face transplant surgery are invited to contact Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an evaluation.
Since the first face transplant was performed in France nearly a decade ago, 24 such surgeries have been done in the United States, according to the U.S> military’s website, Armed With Science.
“The military has absolutely played a critical role,” Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said in the Pentagon release. “There are no other [funding] sources available for clinical research on face transplant surgery other than them.”
Pomahac led medical teams on five face transplant surgeries at Brigham and Women’s – the first covered by the hospital and the others – at about $250,000 each – paid for out of a $3.4 million grant from the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
Other surgeries have been done at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. It was at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008 where the largest and most complicated face transplant was performed, replacing 80 percent of a woman’s face in a procedure that took 22 hours, the article states. That surgery, also, was covered by an AFIRM grant.
The Pentagon continues to provide funding to the civilian hospitals for additional surgeries and research.
Pomahac told Armed With Science that the Defense Department is now trying to find ways to further reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the need for immunosuppression medications. These are currently required for patients to prevent their system from rejecting the transplanted tissue.
“We are not there yet, but we are making strides in this direction,” he said.