Comment »Posted on Friday 8 May 2009 at 8:52 pm by Emma Stokes
In Health & Medicine

How many times have you heard don’t judge a book by it’s cover? Recently we’ve witnessed the judgement of Susan Boyle on the way she looked on Britain’s Got Talent. Lucky for her it turned out that she had an amazing voice, and everyone quickly apologised, or pretended they didn’t judge in the first place.

But, lets be honest, as humans we build up an opinion of people pretty quickly after meeting them, and a lot of this initial impression has to do with how they look. Of course these impressions change over time, but never the less they’re always formed in the first few minutes of meeting or seeing someone.

Take Connie Culp for example, this week there have been numerous articles about her, as she has become the first US woman to have an almost-total face transplant.  After being shot at point blank range by her husband in 2004, she was left without the middle section of her face. She was lucky to survive in the first place, and has been unable to eat or breathe without a tube in her wind pipe.

She has been afraid to leave the house for four years, as she has been scared of people’s reactions to her.  The clinic’s psychiatrist, described an incident in the street where Ms Culp had overheard the child telling its mother: “You said there were no real monsters, mommy, and there’s one right there.”

In the past face transplants have been criticised for being carried out for more cosmetic reasons than life-saving ones.  The issue of psychological problems has also been raised, in that people could find it difficult to adjust to someone else’s face. However, in Connie’s case, it’s difficult to argue that any psychological problems she could have due to her looks would not have been improved after the surgery.  Then there’s the fact that the transplant will allow her to eat and breathe normally, without the use of a tube in her throat, which will significantly improve her quality of life.

Of course the surgery wasn’t easy, since the shooting she has had six major reconstructions, with a total of thirty operations prior to the face transplant itself.  Her journey is far from over either, as it is thought she will require a further two to three operations to remove excess skin and tissue, along with life-long immunosuppressive drugs.  The methods used stem from traditional plastic surgery techniques, along with some pioneering new technology and skilled surgeons. Without people having plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, the field is unlikely to be as developed, or as well funded as it is now.

Face transplants are complex, carry numerous risks, and result in life time reliance on immunosuppressants. But, as much as they are criticised, they are an impressive medical development that has come out of plastic surgery.  And so what if they’re for cosmetic reasons? If the disfigurement is as severe as Connie’s, and seriously affects her quality of life, then surely nobody can argue against them?


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