Face Transplant: Polish Man Receives Lifesaving Transplant After Face Is Ripped Off By Machine [PHOTO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on July 31, 2013 1:50 PM EDT

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A man identified as Grzegorz received Poland's first face transplant. The emergency transplant was the first one ever performed to save a person's life. (Photo: Reuters)

Just 11 weeks after receiving a lifesaving face transplant, a Polish man identified only as Grzegorz is able to eat, see and taste.

The 33-year-old face transplant patient is also able to speak, as he did yesterday at a press conference in Gliwice, Poland.

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"My speech isn't clear, but it's really important that it is there," said Grzegorz. "I know it's still a long way."

While face transplant recipients generally have to wait years for the surgery, doctors couldn't wait in Grzegorz's case. In April, a stone cutting machine tore his face off and crushed his jaw. Unless a face transplant was done immediately, Grzegorz would have been prone to infection and could have died. Doctors attempted to reattach his own face, but that failed. Grzegorz's face transplant is the first one performed to save a person's life.  

"Usually, the recipients have to wait between one and seven years," said Adam Maciejewski, who led the surgery at the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice. "For obvious reasons, we had to act much faster, as we were saving this man's life."

The face transplant donor was a 34-year-old man who had the right age, blood type and other body features to be a good match for Grzegorz.

Teresa Banach, the donor's mother, said it was a "difficult decision, but I consented because I wanted to save someone's life. My son did not need these organs anymore." The donor's organs also went to other patients.

Face transplants are a rare and relatively recent procedure. The first partial face transplant was performed in 2005, but it wasn't until 2010 that a full face transplant took place, when Spanish doctors were able to implant cheekbones, teeth and muscles into a patient. The body will sometimes reject the face transplant, but fortunately in Grzegorz's case this hasn't happened.

The face transplant operation took place on May 15, in a procedure that last 27 hours. Grzegorz received a bone transplant in his face, and his jaws and eye sockets had to be reconstructed as well. Grzegorz may experience infections, but eventually he is expected to recover fully.

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