In April of 2011, less than one month after the first full face transplant in the United States was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), the BWH face transplant team performed the nation’s second full face transplant. The team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, and residents, led by Bohdan Pomahac, MD, worked for more than 14 hours to replace the full facial area of patient Mitch Hunter of Indiana, including the nose, eyelids, and facial animation muscles and nerves.
Following this complicated procedure will be a long period of follow-up care. Some milestones for Mitch are expected to take place fairly quickly and others are expected to be achieved more gradually. To help keep the public informed about Mitch’s progress, we offer periodic updates from his physician, Dr. Pomahac.
Over a year has passed since Mitch underwent his face transplant operation, and he continues to recover remarkably well. He now has near-normal sensation in the vast majority of his face. Additionally, the muscles of his face have shown great improvement, allowing for functional yet controlled motion of his lips and cheeks. This has led to continued improvement of his speech. Mitch reports that he is very happy with both the aesthetic and the functional outcomes of his operation, and enjoys spending as much time as possible with his family and friends.
As the nerves in Mitch's new face have continued to regenerate following the face transplant operation, he has gained increasing sensation and motion of his lips and cheeks. This has resulted in an improved quality of speech. The normal postoperative swelling, particularly of his cheeks and neck, has decreased markedly. Mitch has not experienced any episodes of rejection since shortly after his operation, and he is only on low doses of immunosuppressive medications. He continues to recover according to his surgeons' expectations.
Five months after his full face transplant, Mitch continues with his right-on-track recovery. He is now able to feel his forehead and chin and move his lips. He has not needed any further surgery and is now on only two immunosuppression medications. We started with three types of medications – not including a few days of induction therapy following the transplant surgery – at relatively high dosages, and during the summer we tapered and eventually eliminated one of these medications without any subsequent complications.
Mitch’s recovery is right on track with the medical team’s expectations, and he has been dutifully performing his rehabilitation exercises to aid in his recovery. He already can eat and drink whatever he likes, and although his face is still swollen, he has been healing very well.
Mitch is very happy to have a new face and has enthusiastically returned to everyday activities. He has spent a lot of time talking on his cell phone with his family and friends back home and sightseeing around Boston. Less than two weeks after the transplant surgery, Mitch took his girlfriend out for dinner. Mitch also attended a Red Sox game, and shared with the hospital how incredible it felt to be out in public and not have people stare at him. He has enjoyed exploring Boston, but is looking forward to heading back to Indiana to reunite with his family before returning to BWH for follow-up care this summer.