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In This Issue:
Donald J. Annino, MD, DMD, consults with Mitch Hunter before his surgery; Julian Pribaz, MD, and Bohdan Pomahac, MD, during the 14-hour surgery.
For nearly 10 years, people stared when Mitch Hunter went out in public. The 30-year-old Indiana resident had sustained extensive injuries to his face after suffering a severe shock from a high voltage electrical wire following a car accident in 2001. His face remained deeply scarred, despite numerous reconstructive surgeries and being fitted with a prosthetic nose.
“People took second looks at him, and kids would kind of look at him weird,” said his sister, Morgan Hunter. Last fall, Mitch Hunter first met with plastic surgeons at BWH to determine if he was eligible for this procedure, and in January, he was listed as a face transplant candidate. Less than four months later, he received the call that a donor match had been found.
“We were shocked when we got the call, and we felt very thankful,” said Morgan Hunter. “Some people can wait years and years for transplants. It was hard to guess when it was going to happen, but it has happened now, and it’s exciting.”
A team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and residents worked for more than 14 hours to replace Hunter’s full facial area, including the nose, eyelids, lips, muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation.
“I’m very grateful to the entire transplant team for working so well together, ensuring that Mitch’s procedure went smoothly and putting him on course for a successful recovery and new life,” said Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of the Plastic Surgery Transplantation Program and BWH’s Burn Center. The surgery took place less than a month after Pomahac led a team in performing the first full face transplant in the country for patient Dallas Wiens.
“It truly was a group effort,” agreed Julian Pribaz, MD, of Plastic Surgery. “As one of the senior members of the Plastic Surgery team, it makes me very proud to see this group of exceptionally talented people, many of whom trained at the Brigham, work together on such a life-changing operation.”
Pribaz, who has been performing facial reconstructive surgeries for more than 30 years, says he has no doubt that facial transplant, with one major surgery versus many, is an option that is far superior to anything else. Mitch Hunter and his family agree.
“We never would have thought something like this was possible. Mitch is so grateful and excited to be a recipient of this procedure—he likes being a pioneer,” Morgan Hunter said, adding that she and her brother are excited about what lies ahead as his recovery continues to progress. “I’m looking forward to going out to eat with him, to walking with him—just doing things that he wasn’t completely comfortable doing before.”
And while the Hunter family is excited at what the future holds, they are also grateful to the donor and his family for giving their son and brother a chance at having a more normal life, Morgan Hunter said.
Richard S. Luskin, president and CEO of the New England Organ Bank, also stressed the importance of organ donation. “Advancements in transplantation are only made possible by the generosity of organ and tissue donors and donor families,” he said. “We thank this donor family for their spirit of giving during their time of grief.”
Though the donor family wishes to remain anonymous, they issued a statement following the procedure:
“We are very proud that our beloved son’s wishes were to donate his organs and tissue, helping as many people as possible. We are honored to respect his wishes. When we heard that there was a match for his facial tissue, we were overwhelmed and did not hesitate to say yes. We are so very happy that the transplant is progressing well. It is a gift to us to know that another young man’s life could be so positively changed because of our son’s giving spirit. Though we grieve our loss, we are also joyful that his passing has made this miracle possible.”
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