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Is Causeway Cannibal Victim Candidate for Face Transplant?

MIAMI (CBS4) -- The victim of the causeway cannibal attack has been in the hospital for nearly two weeks. He will endure a lifetime of facial reconstruction following the attack that left him without most of his face.

CBS4's Cynthia Demos asked the head of UM Miller School of Medicine Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Dr. Seth Thaller, if the victim Ronald Poppo was a likely candidate for a face transplant which would be the first one in Florida's history.

"It's not that easy to say 'I'm going to do a face transplant'," responded Dr. Thaller.

The first step in rebuilding the face of a victim like Poppo is stabilizing him, according to Dr. Thaller. "This is a horrific injury and an unusual mechanism for an injury."

The mechanism used was Rudy Eugene's mouth. A mouth is so full of bacteria that the first concern is infection because Eugene chewed off 75-percent of Poppo's face.

The deranged Eugene gouged out one of Poppo's eyes, and chewed off his forehead, nose, and lips, leaving only his chin intact.

There have been less than a dozen face transplants worldwide but the big difference between Poppo and the handful of patients who have successfully undergone the surgery is that the other patients were in good health, did not smoke, and were much younger.

Dr. Thaller said it's more likely that someone with injuries like Poppo would undergo a series of skin grafts.

"The advantage to using your own tissue is you are already in a contaminated wound so if you use your own tissue there is a decreased chance of infection."

When asked if it was possible to get all the necessary tissue, bone and other material needed to reconstruct someone's face following such a severe injury as Poppo endured, Dr. Thaller replied, "It's very possible, very possible and very probable."

Dr. Thaller said there are so many options at this point, it's unclear what exactly will happen but it will take a team of specialists and of course consent from the patient.

In the past, victims like Poppo likely would not have survived but with the advancements in medicine in the past five years Poppo's case does not entirely shock the medical community.

Meanwhile, Poppo remains at Jackson Memorial Hospital facing months of treatment to rebuild his features and psychological care. The Jackson Memorial Foundation has set up a fund to assist him.

If you want to contribute, or would like more information, contact Neighbors for Neighbors at 305-597-4404.

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