Jérôme Hamon, 43, underwent his first face transplantation procedure in 2010 to treat neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of tumors along nerves in the skin, brain and other parts of the body. Yet Hamon’s body rejected the original transplant.
In January, a team of surgeons and paramedics at Georges Pompidou European Hospital AP-HP, led by surgeon Dr. Laurent Lantieri, performed Hamon’s second transplant.
“It is his second transplant but his third face,” Lantieri said. “This shows that a face is an organ like any organ that can be transplanted and retransplanted.”
‘Great strength’ and ‘great spirit’
It was 2016 when Hamon started to show clinical signs of chronic rejection of his first face transplant. Then, in October 2017, he was once again registered on the French Agency of Biomedicine’s national waiting list for a new face.
Transplant rejection occurs when a recipient’s immune system attacks the transplanted organ or tissue. A chronic type of rejection can take place over many years, and the body’s constant immune response can slowly damage the transplanted organ or tissue.
The seriousness of Hamon’s rejection required a complete excision of his face in November. For three months, after the removal of his first transplant up until the second transplantation, Hamon lived without a face in his hospital room, unable to see, speak or hear, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported.
During that time, Lantieri said, he was most inspired by Hamon’s “great strength” and “great spirit” and how he never complained, “even when he was in the dark with no face for three months.”
Lantieri and his colleagues began Hamon’s second face transplantation on a Tuesday afternoon in January, and the surgery ended in the early morning of the following day.
“I’m 43 years old, the donor was 22 years old, so I was 22 years old,” Hamon humorously told BFMTV of his procedure.
Hamon underwent immunological therapy to lower the risk of rejecting the second transplant. He also received psychological support and speech therapy, which will continue for many months.
After a total of eight months in the hospital, Hamon has now been discharged for a week and will spend time with his family, Lantieri said.
‘This is new for the field of face transplantation’
Dr. Maria Siemionow, a professor of orthopedic surgery in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, said Hamon’s second transplant marks a significant moment in the medical field.
She was not involved in his case but led the first face transplantation in the United States in 2008. Around the world, at least 39 face transplantations have been performed, she said.
“The fact that Dr. Lantieri was able to perform a second face transplantation on this recipient is the first case of its kind for the face transplant field,” Siemionow said of Hamon’s case.
“Some patients have to have a second kidney, some patients have to have a second heart transplant or a second liver, so in terms of retransplanting or transplanting again in a patient with a solid organ is not new,” she said. “But this is new for the field of face transplantation, for sure.”