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Dr. Bohdan Pomahac: Changing Lives with Face Transplants

June 07, 2011

Bohdan Pomahac, M.D., is Director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation and Medical Director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Burn Center. He lead the United State’s second partial face transplantation in April 2009 and the nation’s first full face transplantation in March 2011.

Dr. Pomahac grew up in the Czech Republic and graduated from the Palacky University School of Medicine. He trained in General Surgery and Plastic Surgery at BWH and Harvard. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Pomahac has published articles in several journals, including The Journal of Biological Chemistry, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, The Journal of Surgical Research, Journal of Burn Care & Research, and Transplantation. His work has been featured by hundreds of media outlets, including the Today Show, Fox News, NPR, People Magazine, Forbes, the Washington Post, the Boston Herald, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Dr. Pomahac has dedicated his career to helping those injured in traumatic accidents. In addition to leading the BWH Burn Center, he established BWH’s composite tissue transplantation program. He has focused his research on advancing facial reconstruction, burn reconstruction, and microsurgery.

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Learn More About the Patients

  • Jim Maki
  • Dallas Wiens
  • Mitch Hunter
  • Dr. Pomahac’s interest in facial transplants sparked when he met the first person to undergo a partial face transplant. Meeting other face transplant recipients also influenced his choice. One told him about his choice to undergo the operation, “I just want a cab to stop when I’m at the curb.”

    In the last three years, Dr. Pomahac has led three face transplants. The first, in April 2009, was a facial transplant on Jim Maki, who damaged his lips, cheeks, upper mouth, teeth, and nose when he fell onto the electrified third rail in a Boston T station. The second and third, Dallas Wiens in March and Mitch Hunter in April of 2011, were the nation’s first and second face transplants.

    Though the aesthetic change of face transplants is the most noticeable, those in need of face transplants also suffer from severe physical impairments. Most noticeably, facial injuries affect the victims’ abilities to breathe, eat, and speak. After their operations, Jim Maki regained his ability to taste and Dallas Wiens regained his ability to smell.

    Dr. Pomahac calls this operation “life-giving.” “In Dallas’s case you will understand very well why… He was quite literally a man without a face… This face transplant will allow Dallas, who by all accounts is a devoted father, to more fully participate in Scarlet’s life. That’s a true gift.”

    Facial transplants are extremely complicated procedures. More than 30 medical personnel, including 7 or 8 surgeons, work over 14 hours to reconstruct the face and attach the donor tissue, muscles, and nerves.

    Dr. Pomahac’s team is working to anticipate problems and minimize surprises with each new surgery. In Dallas’s case, the most difficult element was the logistics. “With him traveling, us traveling to get the tissues from the donor, the flight times, and getting it all timed right. But I think we have learned even from that experience and that we’ll continue to provide a fairly seamless operation.”

    He’s excited to see the results of the full face transplants. “Certainly I think the most fun part will be to see the next 6-9 months when the function will start to come back and when Dallas will start to feel light touch on his face and start to move his face and lips.”

    Dr. Pomahac believes that advancing technology will push them to accomplish things previously deemed impossible. For months, whenever asked if it would be possible to restore Dallas’s sight, Dr. Pomahac categorically replied that there was no chance, but he’s changing his mind. “We don’t know what the future may hold or how things will progress, so I’m not sure we really know for sure. Right now, he can’t see. Perhaps we have a hope that this will change in the future!”

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    Last updated: 07-Jun-11

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