UCLA launches first face transplant program in western United States

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The emergency entrance to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center as seen on October 9, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

UCLA is launching the first face transplant program in the western United States. Doctors are now seeking patients to participate in clinical trials.

UCLA joins only a handful of surgical programs nationwide that offer facial transplant surgery for people with massive injuries, such as severe burns.

The procedure involves finding an organ donor of the same size, color and gender. After doctors remove the unhealthy parts of the recipient’s face, they transfer and reattach the donor’s tissue with reconstructive microsurgery.

Candidates for UCLA’s clinical trial must first meet the criteria for the surgery. That includes having a disfigurement that’s not caused by a birth defect, and one that cannot be repaired by conventional surgery. Those who qualify will be put on a waiting list until the center identifies a suitable donor.

Beyond the actual surgery, the program will provide patients who undergo facial transplant surgery with emotional support as they adjust to their new face.

Worldwide, only 19 people are reported to have undergone the rare surgery, five of them in the U.S. But demand for facial transplants is expected to rise, especially among veterans.

Other criteria for the UCLA program include being between 18 and 60 years old, having no serious infection (including hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV) and being in good general health. The patient must also commit to extensive rehabilitation, stick to an immunosuppression medication plan and participate in continuing appointments.

Patients who meet the requirements and want to be considered can contact Dr. Kodi Azari, surgical director of the face transplantation program, at (310) 794-2558 for an initial evaluation.

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