December 18, 2008
Posted: 06:09 PM ET
Dr. Maria Siemionow is the head of plastic surgery research at the Cleveland Clinic. She headed the surgical team that successfully performed America's first face transplant.
DR. SIEMIONOW'S COMMENTARY IS EXCLUSIVE TO THE LKL BLOG.
Four years ago, Cleveland Clinic was the first hospital to gain IRB approval for facial tissue transplantation. It was at that time I came to the realization that my hope to help people with severe facial trauma would one day become a reality. What many of you don’t know is that this idea came to me 20 years ago while working with children. Many of those children suffered from severe facial trauma mostly caused by burns, I was there to perform surgery on their hands, but hoped one day I could help restore their faces and I am proud to say that this team has helped me accomplish that goal.
This surgery took years of planning, hard work and dedication. It also took time to educate society about why this is important. Thousands of people who suffer from severe facial trauma live amongst us everyday…but we don’t see them because they are afraid society won’t accept them. This surgery gives hope to those people.
Once it was announced that we had IRB approval everybody wanted to know when this was going to happen. I was very honest in my response: we weren’t striving to be first; rather we were striving to do this right. The screening process took years, we said from the beginning we would only consider patients who have exhausted all means of conventional surgery, and this surgery was only for those who were out of options. This particular patient had many prior reconstructive procedures- which were successful BUT because of the trauma she suffered– a face transplant was the only way to restore facial function.
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