In a novel medical procedure, a Chinese girl horribly disfigured in a house fire is growing a new face — on her chest.
Xu Jianmei, 17, has gone through childhood with chronic pain and a face her parents could not afford to fix with plastic surgery.
Now, surgeons in Funzhou, the urbanized provincial capital of Fujian, are experimenting with a new technology to regenerate tissue composing a new chin, eyelids, and ears. In a series of 8-hour operations, the surgeons first removed a piece of blood vessel from Jianmei’s thigh, which they implanted into her chest. Then then stretched the skin on her chest by inserting a water-filled device beneath the subcutaneous layer.
In that manner, they “grew” enough flesh to surgically cover the girl’s face. "With her new face she'll be able to express herself in a more precise way," Jiang Chenhong told reporters. "She will even be able to blush as her emotions change — but it will take time."
Surgeons in France performed the world’s first successful facial transplant in May 2005, repairing the countenance of Isabelle Dinoir, now in her mid-forties, who’d been mauled by her Labrador retriever after losing consciousness in what she later said was a suicide attempt via sleeping pills. In that procedure, doctors grafted a triangular piece of facial tissue, including the nose and mouth, taken from a brain-dead donor.
To date, Chinese teams have performed at least 10 face transplant operations, believed to be entirely successful. In July of 2008, Li Guoxing, 32, died in southwestern China from immune complications less than two years after his face transplant surgery. However, doctors said the rural farmer had stopped taking his regimen of immune-suppressing drugs in favor of traditional herbal medicines. The man’s surgeon, Guo Shuzhong, told Agence-France Presse that his death had nothing to do with the surgery.
"His death was not caused by the surgery. Our operation was a success," Guo said. "But we cannot rule out a connection with the immune system drugs.”
After Guoxing’s face had been mauled by a bear during a hunting trip, surgeons grafted pieces of flesh to his face using tissue from a donor.
Now, Chinese medical teams have been performing such transplant operations by growing flesh directly on the patient, rather than grafting skin and other tissue from donors on life support. In a procedure similar to Jianmei’s, surgeons grew flesh on the forehead of a car accident victim, which they used to create a new nose.
Below is a video presentation of the operations by the surgical team in China, uploaded to YouTube: