A horrifically burned teenage girl has received a face transplant after surgeons 'grew' a new one on her chest.
Xu Jianmei was just five when a fire left her severely disfigured. After a near lifetime of being unable to smile, the 17-year-old is now able to do just that.
Xu’s parents had been unable to afford the surgery needed to improve their daughter’s life, but their luck changed when Chinese medics working on pioneering new transplant technology offered her the surgery for free.
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The latest operation saw Xu awaken to find doctors had successfully attached a chin, eyelids and an ear from the “face” they had grown artificially on her chest.
The procedure follows a similar operation in which another group of Chinese doctors managed to give a car accident victim a new nose by growing it first on his forehead.
The transplant team in China’s Fujian province built Xu’s new face using a blood vessel from her leg and a water-filled balloon to expand her skin. It then took several months to grow the new face until it was large enough to cover her missing facial features.
Video footage after last week's eight-hour surgery shows Xu lying in a hospital bed, barely conscious and severely swollen, but with smooth flesh now replacing the ridged scars of her old face.
"With her new face she will be able to express herself in a more precise way. She will even be able to blush when her emotions change, but it will take a long time," her surgeon, Jiang Chenhong said.
"First, we took a piece of blood vessel fascia from her thigh and implanted it in her chest. Then we inserted a skin expander beneath the part of skin where the blood vessel fascia was planted, so that the part could expand and produce enough skin for her new face," Jiang added.
China's first donor face transplant recipient, farmer Li Guoxing, received his new face in 2006. That was less than a year after the world's first successful face transplant recipient, Isabelle Dinoir, was presented to media in France.
However, Li died less than two years later, after stopping his anti-rejection medication. Since then 10 surgeries of this kind have been performed in China.
Doctors believe that the wounds left by the surgery on Xu will heal over the next several weeks.