Health & medicine Science & tech

How is technology transforming facial reconstruction surgery?

For patients in dire need of facial reconstructive surgeries, the advanced and detailed methods of repairing craniofacial anomalies and injuries can be life changing. But, what role has technology played in this transformation and how is it being used to treat patients in modern day operating theatres? Abi Millar reports.

In 2017, 21-year-old Katie Stubblefield made headlines when she became the youngest person in the US to receive a face transplant. The young woman had lost her face three years earlier following a self-inflicted gunshot wound and while she survived, her injuries were some of the worst her doctors had ever seen. Nearly her entire face was gone, including her nose, mouth and jaw, and she had a traumatic brain injury from the bullet’s force.

Until quite recently, a patient like Katie would have had little hope of looking normal again. The best she could have expected would have been to patch up her injuries – and indeed, Katie lived for three years with a makeshift face that she compared to Shrek. Surgeons closed her wound with tissue from her own thigh and Achilles tendon, and gave her a titanium jawbone. She had multiple surgeries to stabilise her condition and remove shattered bone.

While this in itself was a technical triumph, Katie’s eventual face transplant represented the very acme of what surgery can achieve. Since 2005, when French doctors conducted the first partial face transplant, the field has advanced rapidly, and there have now been around 40 surgeries worldwide. However, because these are not life-saving surgeries (unlike, say, a heart transplant), ethics committees often block them from going ahead.

Read the rest of this article in the March 2020 edition of Medical Technology

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