Face Transplant Benefits and Risks

As with any type of surgery, face transplant surgery presents both benefits and risks. Below are some of the major factors that face transplant candidates should consider. For a more thorough discussion of the benefits and risks of face transplant surgery, please read our Face Transplant Patient Guide.

Benefits

The potential benefits of face transplant surgery are unique and life-changing. Here are a few of these significant benefits: 

Improved functionality - Face transplant surgery can restore the physical functionality of a human face, including the ability to breathe, speak, swallow, smile and show other emotions. 

Restoration of appearance - A face transplant’s ability to restore a near-normal facial appearance can help patients to regain the confidence to return to their former lifestyles, including jobs and social activities.

Less pain and discomfort - There are two major reasons why face transplant surgery should lead to less pain and discomfort. One is that face transplant surgery is one large procedure, whereas conventional face reconstruction involves many surgeries and many recoveries. Another is that face transplant surgery does not involve other surgical sites on the body where the patient’s own skin is removed for use on the face.  

Risks

Any type of surgery presents risks, but there are certain risks that tend to be peculiar to face transplant surgery or transplant surgery in general, including: 

Rejection - Although it has not happened yet, the possibility exists that a facial transplant will be rejected by the patient’s immune system. If this occurs, the facial transplant will have to be removed and alternatives will be discussed. Options include conventional reconstructive facial surgery or another facial transplant at a later time. 

Identity issues - As the face plays a substantial role in one’s identity, there is a concern that the patient will feel upset about having a new (changed) face. However, our studies have shown that the donor’s appearance is not transferred to the recipient and the recipient is typically recognizable immediately following the surgery. This recognition will continue to improve as the face heals.

Drug side-effects – The medications used to help prevent rejection of donated face tissue, or any type of transplanted tissue or organ, increase a patient’s risk for developing infections, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Read our Face Transplant Patient Guide to learn more about the estimates for each risk and what we do to counter these risks. 

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