Gunshot Victim Becomes Youngest Person in US to Receive a Face Transplant

Doctors at Cleveland Clinic perform the hospital's third face transplant.
Doctors at Cleveland Clinic perform the hospital's third face transplant. (Image credit: Cleveland Clinic/DPSI Medical Photography)

A 21-year-old woman who was shot in the face as a teenager has become the youngest person in the United States to receive a face transplant.

The woman, who suffered severe trauma to her face as a result of the gunshot wound, underwent the 31-hour face transplant surgery in May at the Cleveland Clinic, according to a statement from the hospital.

A team of surgeons replaced 100 percent of the woman's facial tissue with tissue from a donor, in what's known as a "full face transplant." The surgery will allow the patient to speak more clearly, as well as breathe, chew and swallow more effectively, and better express emotions with her face, the hospital said. [The 9 Most Interesting Transplants]

"Knowing this patient now has the opportunity to live a functional life because of her face transplant is the greatest reward," Dr. Brian Gastman, a plastic surgeon who assisted in the surgery, said in the statement. "With a new nose, lips, palate, eyelids and jaw, she now has the full opportunity to re-integrate into society and have a future just like any other young adult."

The hospital did not release the identity of the patient or the donor to protect their privacy. But the hospital issued the following statement from the patient:

"To reach this point of recovery has often times been a difficult road to travel, but I’m thankful there's been a road," the patient said. "I am forever grateful for the care this hospital has given me and continues to offer on my journey of recovery and healing … and to my donor and her family — words cannot express the appreciation I have for this incredible gift. With a grateful heart, I say 'thank you' to all who have made this possible for me."

The patient is now recovering well, and will go through intensive rehabilitative therapy, physical therapy, speech and swallowing therapy and occupational therapy, the hospital said. As with all transplant patients, the woman will need to take medication to suppress her immune system, to prevent her body from rejecting the transplant, for the rest of her life.

The surgery marks the third face transplant performed at Cleveland Clinic, and the hospital's first full face transplant. The hospital is one of six institutions in the United States that performs face transplants. Fewer than three dozen face transplants have been performed worldwide, according to the statement. 

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.