Doctors say the recovering recipient can "feel that she has a full face in front of her"

By Brian Orloff
Updated December 17, 2008 02:20 PM

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed the first successful near-total face transplant on a patient in the United States, it was revealed Wednesday.

Dr. Maria Siemionow, the head of plastic surgery research at the clinic, announced some details of the transplant at a press conference – although the identities of both the transplant recipient, who suffered severe facial trauma (including missing skin, bone and eyelids), and the donor, a deceased woman, remain private.

However, Siemionow did reveal that the recipient’s family sent a gracious note, thanking the donor’s family, which she read at the press conference. “Thanks to the wonderful person who donated herself,” the letter read. “[The recipient] has a chance to lead a normal life.”

And Siemionow says the recipient herself, while beginning her recovery process, is aware of her new face – even though she has not seen it.

“The patient has limited vision,” Siemionow said during the press conference. “She still is quite swollen. She will be able to recognize faces soon.”

The doctor noted “how happy [the patient] was [that] with both her hands she could go over her face and feel that she has a full face in front of her.”

Dr. Chad Gordon confirmed that the patient indicated she was feeling all right following the surgery by giving a “thumbs up,” which he told reporters was the “first indication that she was comfortable.”

“She’s been speaking to us very slightly and most of her communication is through writing,” he said. “She has expressed high satisfaction with the status of the operation.”

Doctors confirm that the facial transplant recipient is a United States citizen.

The surgery was conducted two weeks ago. Doctors in France and China have completed similar transplants in the past three years, though many note the ethical controversies these surgeries raise.

For more on this story, visit