Dr. Pomahac with face transplant patient Mitch Hunter

Dr. Bohdan Pomahac with face transplant patient Mitch Hunter

Anyone suffering from a long-term disease or debilitation yearns to return to or achieve a life of “normal” – including eating their favorite foods like sushi.

When meeting with a doctor or surgeon to review treatment, you discuss the technicalities – what incisions will be made, what medications will be taken, what follow-up care will be required. But the lingering question always is: When will I be better? When will life be “normal?”

Last spring, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac led teams of more than 30 doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and residents to complete three full face transplants. From a technical standpoint, the transplant is achieved when the blood vessels from the donor’s skin and the patient’s skin connect, and the color flows into the patient’s new face. But that is only the start. The face heals. The patient can smell again, can sneeze, and blow his or her nose. The patient has lips and can talk and eat. When out in public, the patient no longer confronts horrific stares.

To date, there have been just five face transplants completed in the United States, four of them led by Dr. Pomahac at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The medical achievement is profound, ground-breaking – giving individuals who lose their face in tragic accidents a chance to smell, eat and talk with their mouths, and face the world again.

But beyond the distinction of this historical achievement is a much more straightforward triumph. One of the most gratifying moments, Dr. Pomahac explains, happened nine days after a face transplant: The patient texted Dr. Pomahac asking if he knew where to get good sushi in Boston. It was the return to normal.

– Linda W.

comments (1)