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Poland claims world's first life-saving face transplant

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Polish doctors carried out the world's first life-saving face transplant, the centre's spokeswoman said Wednesday, weeks after a 33-year-old man was disfigured by a machine in a workplace accident.

"It is Poland's first face transplant and also the first in the world done to save the patient's life," Anna Uryga, spokeswoman for the Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology in the southern city of Gliwice, told AFP.

The man, an employee at a stonemason's workshop and only identified as Grzegorz, was severely maimed on April 23, when a machine used to cut stone ripped out a large chunk of his face.

An attempt to reattach it failed -- though it saved the man's vision and and a part of his face -- and because of the breadth and depth of the lesions "his life was on the line", Uryga said.

With time of the essence, doctors were lucky to find a donor within two weeks, a man in his thirties whose family immediately agreed to the operation.

The heart and liver of the deceased man were also donated to two other people.

A team of doctors at the centre -- the only one licenced to perform face transplants in Poland -- performed the 27-hour facial surgery on May 15, with the patient's full consent.

"He and his family approved the action plan and the associated risks. He was even enthusiastic," head doctor Adam Maciejewski told reporters.

Now, a week later, "his condition is still serious because it was a huge operation ... (but) he is breathing on his own. Unable to speak, he is communicating via head and hand movements," the doctor added.

Polish media published a photograph of the man flashing a thumbs-up from his hospital bed, with thick black stitches encircling his face.

"The patient will be able to eat, breathe and see. In eight months' time, he should have full facial motor control."

French doctors carried out the world's first successful face transplant in 2005 on Isabelle Dinoire, a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Since then, over 20 other transplants have been carried out worldwide, including in Belgium, Spain, Turkey and the US.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130522/poland-claims-worlds-first-life-saving-face-transplant