A HOSPITAL in Salamanca has managed to perform Spain's first-ever non-rejected face transplant, thanks to a pioneering reconstruction technique.
It is only now, after 15-and-a-half months, that the surgeons behind the complex operation have been able to confirm the patient's immune system has not rejected the new organ.
The Paraguayan man, aged 28 at the time of the transplant in mid-September 2014, had been affected by a fast-growing Meningioma which had disfigured him.
This is a tumour of the meninges, or three layers of tissue between the brain and skull, known as the Dura Mater, Arachnoid and Pia Mater.
Even benign tumours in one or more meninges can 'act like cancer' and spread in the same way, according to medics.
The young Latin American's skull and face were badly affected, say surgeons Dr Jorge García and Dr Juan Antonio Gómez-Moreta, who spent 12 hours coordinating a team of over 30 professionals from eight different specialist areas.
The patient has now been named as Fernando Isaac Gómez, who was given a deceased donor's forehead, skull base and eye sockets.
But the skin was not transplanted – the brand-new technique used involved redeploying the patient's own flesh, reducing the risk of the body's rejecting his new face.
This method has been pioneered with patients disfigured in accidents, but as yet not with those affected by tumours.
As part of the transplant surgery, Fernando Gómez's tumour was removed, but he has not needed chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or any other medication.
Neither has he suffered major eye pains or headaches, nor any loss of or negative effects on his vision, says the hospital in the centre-western university city of Salamanca, Castilla y León region.
In fact, soon after the transplant operation, Fernando – who is now resident in Madrid – had his first child.
He reports that he is feeling 'very well', that his 'life has changed for the better', and he now only has to go to hospital periodically for X-rays.
“Now that I'm more attractive, I go out every day – I couldn't before, because I was so severely deformed,” said a delighted Fernando.
He used to wear glasses because he could not see, the patient reveals.
“Now that I can actually work at last, I'm searching for a job,” he says.
The surgeons say transplanting the bone structure of a face and keeping the original skin and tissue where possible means putting a new face on a patient in need is likely to be far more successful.
It is the skin and tissue which the immune system rejects, not the bone structure, the hospital team explains.