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Sorta Random Sunday: A Face and Eye (?!) Transplant

Plastic surgery is a really cool field. We get to do a lot of very fulfilling things to help patients both in a reconstructive and aesthetic sense. But it is also a fun field because we are constantly innovating. And of course I’m biased, but I think we do this more than any other specialty. Look no further than the recently announced world’s-first face and eye transplant.

Yup, you read that right…

A face and eye transplant!

face eye transplant
Dr. Rodriguez and his patient after the successful surgery!

Wait, plastic surgeons are doing transplants?

Interestingly enough, plastic surgeons really were the first transplant surgeons. It all started because we, as a field, got into learning about skin grafts. Early plastic surgeons who didn’t even really call themselves that at the time recognized that skin grafts from anyone other than the patient (including animals…) died and did not work. But skin grafts from the same patient worked like a charm.

That led to advances in learning about the body’s self recognition and immune system and intrigue about transplant between individuals naturally grew.

I am pretty familiar with this history as my training program, NYU, hosted the first ever international transplant meeting and performed a lot of the early transplant research.

Moving forward in time, did you know that the first successful kidney transplant in the US was performed by…you guessed it…a plastic surgeon named Joseph Murray!

So, it’s really no surprise that plastic surgeons are still at the forefront of this field. Just not doing solid organ transplants. Instead, innovative plastic surgeons have pushed forward the field of…

Composite tissue allotransplantation

This is the idea of transplant different tissue types all together to reconstruct something that couldn’t be successfully reconstructed otherwise or with just one tissue type.

The most common of these types of transplants are face and hand transplants.

In fact, at the end of my training, I got to have a first row seat to preparation for the world’s first successful face and hand transplant. This was headed by our department’s chair, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez.

Which leads to now…

The world’s first face and eye transplant

Earlier this week, NYU and Dr. Rodriguez announced that they performed the world’s first whole-eye and partial-face transplant for a 46-year-old military veteran from Arkansas who survived a work-related high-voltage electrical accident.

The following is from their press release:

The surgery included transplanting the entire left eye and a portion of the face from a single donor, making this the first-ever human whole-eye transplant in medical history and the only successful combined transplant case of its kind.

While it is still unknown whether he will regain sight, since the May 2023 procedure, the transplanted left eye has shown remarkable signs of health, including direct blood flow to the retina—the area at the back of the eye that receives light and sends images to the brain. Although many questions remain in a case with no precedence, this groundbreaking achievement opens new possibilities for future advancements in vision therapies and related medical fields.

This is really amazing stuff!

It makes me very proud to be a plastic surgeon and to have trained at such an amazing place!

Congrats to Dr. Rodriguez and his team!

Here are some other posts that highlight some of the amazing stuff we are doing in the field of plastic surgery!

What do you think? What makes you love your field of medicine? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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