Feb 22, 2017 | By Tess

A medical team from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has successfully completed a facial transplant for 32-year-old patient Andrew Sandness. The incredibly complex procedure, which required over 50 hours of surgery, was made possible in part thanks to 3D printing technologies, which were used to produce 3D models and surgical guides.

In 2006, 21-year-old Wyoming-born Andrew Sandness was severely injured by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face. The young man, who fortunately survived the suicide attempt, was left seriously disfigured. For years, Sandness has lived with his injury, which had made everyday tasks such as speaking, chewing, smelling, and even breathing very difficult for the now 32-year-old.

Recently, however, Sandness underwent a near-total facial transplant which has changed his life for the better. As he remarked, “I am absolutely amazed at the outcome so far. I am now able to chew and eat normal food, and the nerve sensation is slowly improving, too. My confidence has improved, and I’m feeling great―and grateful.”

As one can imagine, facial transplants are no easy feat, and the procedure required extensive planning. This, as the Mayo Clinic explains, involved virtual surgical planning as well as 3D printed models and guides. As Dr. Mardini explains: “Using this technology of 3d modeling, printing, and virtual surgical planning is extremely beneficial. [Medical modeling engineers] would have cutting guides for us that we would clip on the bones that would give us the exact location of the cut, the exact angle of the cut, so that when we took the donor’s face and put it on the recipient it would fit perfectly.”

Because of the state of Sandness’ face, the surgery required a number of medical processes, including reconstructing and restoring the patient’s nose, upper and lower jaw, palate, teeth, cheeks, facial muscles, salivary glands, skin, and more. The surgery, which was initiated in summer 2016, lasted over 50 hours and required participation from nine surgeons and 40 nurses. Like I said, no small feat.

The complex procedure was performed by a multi-disciplinary team led by Samir Mardini, M.D. and Hatem Amer, M.D., and consisted of specialists from plastic and reconstructive surgery, transplant medicine, neurology, ophthalmology, dermatology, radiology, critical care, anesthesia, psychiatry, and many more fields. Sandness’s procedure marked the first facial transplant surgery for the Mayo Clinic Essam and Dalal Obaid Center for Reconstructive Transplant Surgery.

“Mayo Clinic has a long history of specialized teams of experts providing complex care to patients who need hope and healing,” explained Dr. Mardini. “This is an extraordinary example of the teamwork, collaboration, and compassion that we provide at Mayo Clinic, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Andy has been our patient for 10 years. He has worked so hard to prepare for this, and during his entire recovery period, he has been strong, gracious, and determined. Andy is an amazing person and so well deserving of this gift.”

Sandness, who is reportedly recovering well, is expected to head home to Wyoming this month. With his new face, he is grateful to have the chance to eat, speak, and breathe normally again. Of course, in addition to the doctors and technology that helped along the way, Sandness is forever grateful to his donor. “I am so thankful to my donor and the donor’s family, and to all of the people who have supported me throughout this process,” he commented.

See more of Sandness’ story below:

 

 

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