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Last week Fox News reported on the second face transplant in America.  They are becoming all the rage in University settings and popular with the news.  Rightly so.  The changes in physical appearance are quite dramatic and show well in pictures and video.  Universities and physicians get attention and publicity as well.  Physically disfigured patients are appreciative of their improved physical appearance, which is often very dramatic when the before pictures are examined.

Unfortunately, all is not fun and games.  Transplant surgery is very serious business.  The transplant drugs have serious complications associated with them including death.  December 2008 Scientific American Blog reported the death of the Chinese face transplant patient, Li Guoxing.  Details were sketchy, but the fear of this being a complication of the anti-rejections drugs is real.

Transplant surgery was originally developed for kidney failure patients.  Even though renal dialysis maintains life, there are continued and ongoing risks of death.  Kidney transplants were viewed as a way of reducing the morbidity and mortality of dialysis.  In other words, the risks of anti rejection drugs was better than the risks of dialysis.  Quality of life was also dramatically improved.

Face transplants are by in large, a cosmetic surgery operation.  Unlike hand transplants which have a functional benefit, face transplants cannot offer anything but improvement in quality of life.  How much is this worth?  Is death an acceptable risk to look better?  Obviously these pioneer patients have made their choice based on present knowledge.  Only time will tell if this choice was wise.


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