Kaohsiung doctor seeking volunteers for face transplant

KAOHSIUNG (CNA) – A Kaohsiung-based surgeon is seeking volunteers to undergo Taiwan’s first face transplant operation after gaining approval from the central government to do so in November 2018.

Kuo Yur-ren (郭耀仁), director of the Department of Surgery at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital and the key figure on its face transplant team, told CNA Wednesday he has been looking for volunteers with facial disfigurement to do a transplant since being given the green light by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Prior to receiving approval, the hospital had patients ask about the possibility of the procedure last year, but no action was taken because of the lack of a legal basis, Kuo explained.

The concept of face transplants grabbed popular attention in the 1997 thriller Face/Off, leading local media to dub Kuo’s search as an attempt to bring the movie to life in Taiwan, where the procedure has never been done.

Unlike the world of fiction that can make changing faces look easy, however, face transplants are extremely sophisticated surgeries involving highly complex techniques, Kuo said.

There have been 40 successful cases around the world since first done in 2005, and they have been performed on people disfigured by burns, gun wounds or neurofibromatosis with a success rate of about 80 percent.

Kuo, who carried out Taiwan’s first single arm transplant in 2014, has been practicing face transplants on animals and corpses since 2008 to master the techniques needed because the operation is more difficult than the arm transplant, he said.

Ben Tsao (曹賜斌), a mentor of Kuo and chairman of the Kaohsiung Aesthetic Medical Tourism Promotion Association, said a face transplant requires highly complicated techniques involving microsurgery, craniofacial surgery, and facial shaping, but it can be critically important to helping patients rebuild their lives.

Kuo’s ability to conduct such operations will help Kaohsiung boost its international fame and explore the city’s potential for medical tourism, Tsao said.

By Chen Chi-fong and Flor Wang