The World's First Face Transplant Patient Dies at 49

Image/Getty (Left: Three months after surgery; Right: one year later)

Sad news to report from the medical community: The world's first face transplant recipient, 49-year-old Isabelle Dinoire, died in April "after a long illness" according to doctors at Amiens Hospital in Northern France, where the cutting-edge procedure was performed back in 2005. 

Dinoire, whose face had been mauled by her dog, received a graft that included the nose, lips and chin of a donor who was brain-dead, but unfortunately after more than 10 years, her body began to reject the transplant. The hospital did not provide details on Dinoire's cause of death, but French newspaper Le Figaro reported that she suffered complications from her most recent operation, which led to a rejection of the new body tissue and eventually the development of two cancers as a result of anti-rejection medication.

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Amiens hospital said her death was kept quiet in order to protect her family's privacy. Although this news is tragic, Dinoire's groundbreaking surgery paved the way for other facial transplants to benefit the lives of victims who also suffer from disfigurement. In addition to the United States, surgeons in five other countries—China, Spain, Belgium, Poland and Turkey—have performed partial or full facial transplants since Dinoire's surgery more than a decade ago.

But, the risks with these types of procedures are very high, and some doctors are cautious to proceed without further scientific study of the long-term effects. Paul Meningaud, head of the reconstructive surgery department at the Henri Mondor Hospital, who has performed seven face transplants in France, told the Associated Press that he believes the medical community needs to step back. "It's a rather high price to pay for the patient. It's time to mark a pause."

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