Breakthroughs in Plastic Surgery

Face Transplant Patient Makes Public Plea

Face Transplant Patient Makes Public Plea

James Maki, the second face transplant patient in the U.S., is taking his incredible story to the public in an effort to encourage organ donation.

Face transplant patient James Maki with Dr. Bohdan PomahacIn John Woo’s Oscar-nominated 1997 film Face/Off, the characters portrayed by Nicholas Cage and John Travolta literally switched faces, each having the other’s face surgically attached to their own skull in order to advance the plot.

But did you know that face transplantation surgery is real?

It is. The first full face transplant in England took place in October 2006, followed by the first full-face transplant in the U.S. in December 2008. The second was performed in Boston this April.

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Now the patient who received a new face in that operation, James Maki, is taking his incredible story public in an effort to encourage organ donation.

In 2005, Maki fell onto the electrified third rail at a Boston subway station. The surge of high-voltage electricity burned away much of his face, including his nose, cheeks, upper lip, the roof of his mouth, and the muscles, bones and nerves associated with them. Emergency surgery saved his life, but his horrifying disfigurement and the resulting social stigma turned it into a kind of living hell.

But James Maki didn’t give up on life – and his doctor didn’t give up on him. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac successfully transplanted a donor face onto his skull in a 17-hour-long operation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The operation did more than restore hope to James Maki: it offers new hope to others like him.

With this in mind, a recovering Maki took the podium at Brigham and Women’s Hospital last month to discuss his case with the news media and urge the public to consider patients waiting for face transplants when making decisions about organ donation.

He was joined by Susan Whitman, the widow of Maki’s donor, sociologist Joseph Helfgot. Ms. Whitman explained how the donation of her late husband’s face to Maki helped in “taking the sting out” of her husband’s death.

Helfgot, a well-known motion picture marketer and entertainment industry figure, died on April 8th after a heart transplant.

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