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Palacký University
07-22-2013, 09:22, Age: 11 y.

Pomahač: Face Transplants Bring Patients Back to a Full Life

By: Martina Šaradínová

The world-famous plastic surgeon, Professor Bohdan Pomahač, described the last seven years of his work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in front of the crowded auditorium hall of the Faculty of Law this past June. His presentation, entitled “Face Reconstruction by Transplants”, was held within the series of popular science lectures by important Palacký University alumni.

“I tried to introduce the work on face reconstructions by means of transplants, a technique which basically has never been possible before. It is a revolutionary surgical technique. I hope it will have many implications for other branches of medicine in the future,” said Pomahač.

Face transplants restore patients’ lives

Plastic surgeons perform the demanding task of reconstructing faces which were severely damaged during devastating accidents, which often change the person’s life in a split second. The transplant becomes an option only after the classical methods of reconstruction surgery cannot help the patient. “Face transplants do not save the lives of our patients; they restore their lives. The patients’ return to life is as full as it can be. One of the biggest contributions of our work may perhaps be the findings on immunological reactions between the donor and the recipient,” said Pomahač in his presentation.

Professor Pomahač graduated in General Medicine from Palacký University in 1996. Then he was employed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he first worked in the laboratory specialising in gene transfer to skin cells and later applied for the Department of Surgery. Since 2004, he has focussed his research on face transplants. In 2007, he became the medical director of the BWH Burn Center, housed within the division of Trauma, Burn and Surgical Critical Care, and also became the leader of the team specialising in face transplants. Altogether, he has performed five such transplants with his team.

“The first face transplant was performed more than four years ago and the patient is doing amazingly well. We are very happy that he is practically without complications in this phase of his treatment, which will be life-long. At the same time, his new face is still improving its functional ability, so the process of recovery has not stopped and continues even years after the transplant. This is a strong motivation for us to try and push the boundaries forward, with regard to the indications of the patients as well as the possibility of transplanting upper or lower limbs,” suggested Pomahač. Apart from the man who fell on the high-voltage line in the subway and burnt the middle part of his face, his team has also helped a woman whose face was disfigured by a chimpanzee and a patient whose former husband poured lye onto her face. “The remaining four patients are doing fine as well; we see them once or twice a year. Their conditions do not require more frequent care,” added Prof. Pomahač.

Transplanted legs must outperform prostheses

Another focus of Pomahač’s interest is lower-limb transplants. “Our scientific protocol has been prepared and approved, so we are looking for a source of financing and a suitable patient. In my opinion, we may be able to perform such a transplant in about six months. The goal is to provide functioning legs, bending in the knee and ankle joints. Prostheses often work very well, so the transplant needs to do better,” said Pomahač. One of the first patients might be eventually found among the Boston Marathon victims who lost their legs during the terrorist attack. Successful lower-limb transplants have been performed in Spain and Canada.

The presentation received sustained applause by the audience. Professor Pomahač also received a Silver Medal from Rector Miroslav Mašláň, issued on the occasion of the 440th anniversary of the foundation of the university in Olomouc.

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Last update: 19. 09. 2012, Vladimír Kubák