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Face-Transplant Program Will
Help to Restore Devastated Lives
UCLA’s Face Transplant Program is one of
only a handful in the nation.
Facial transplantation offers the
capability to restore features that are
too damaged by trauma or ﬁre to restore
through conventional reconstruction.
offers the potential to
restore humanity to
persons who have
suffered the devastating
loss of their face.”
UCLA Health is the first center in the western
United States to offer facial transplantation to
qualified patients who cannot be adequately
treated using conventional reconstructive
techniques. The UCLA Face Transplant Program
is one of only a handful in the nation to offer this
still-experimental innovative treatment. Facial
transplantation is a complex procedure that
is part of the emerging transplant field called
vascularized composite allotransplantation
(VCA). This is the transplantation of skin, blood
vessels, nerves, bone, muscle and other supportive
structures from a donor to a candidate. To
accomplish this, the UCLA program has assembled
an outstanding team of specialists, including those
in plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and
neck surgery, microvascular surgery, occuloplastic
surgery, neurosurgery, oral surgery, dentistry,
psychiatry and transplantation medicine.
Kodi Azari, MD, FACS, chief of reconstructive
transplantation, talks about the program.
How did this program evolve?
UCLA has been involved over the past several years
with the U.S. military through Operation Mend,
providing reconstructive surgery to service
members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our
face-transplant program grew from our desire to
do more for our wounded service members. The
face is the most exposed body part and is integral to
our sense of self. So you can only imagine what it’s
like to not have a face. Face transplantation offers
the potential to restore the sense of self to persons
who have suffered the devastating loss of their
face. People with massive facial injuries often have
trouble breathing, speaking and eating, as well as
depression and social isolation. Early surgeries
have demonstrated very promising results in
improving both appearance and function. While
the program is an outgrowth of our relationship
with the military, it will accept both civilians and
veterans as candidates.
What are the criteria to become an eligible
candidate for face transplantation?
The first requirement is that the patient’s facial
disfigurement cannot be the result of cancer and,
in spite of repeated attempts, cannot adequately
be reconstructed by conventional means. We can
do amazing things through reconstructive plastic
surgery, but there are injuries from trauma or
from burns that are just beyond our capabilities
to restore. Facial transplantation offers us that
capability. Appropriate candidates must be
between 18 and 60 years of age, have no serious
infections, including hepatitis B or C or HIV,
and be in otherwise generally good health. In
addition, candidates must commit to extensive
rehabilitation, adhere to an immunosuppression
medication regimen, and participate in all
appointments at the transplant center.
Patients needing an organ transplant can
spend years on the waiting list before an
appropriate donor is found. What are the
challenges of matching an appropriate donor
and recipient for this procedure?
Finding the right donor is a challenge, and this
is such a new field that there is no streamlined
way for finding donors. We would like to push
for a national database, like what exists for organ
UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-888 (1-800-825-2888)