French doctors said Tuesday that they had performed a partial face transplant on a man whose face was disfigured by a genetic disorder, giving him a new nose, mouth and chin and replacing part of his cheeks.
The 15-hour operation Monday was the world's third partial face transplant.
"The patient is doing well from a surgical point of view," said Dr. Laurent Lantieri. Still, he added, "We will have to wait many months for the results."
The 29-year-old patient suffered from a genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis, which causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue throughout the body, the doctors said. The condition is similar to the disorder that affected Joseph Merrick, who was depicted as "The Elephant Man" in the theater and on screen.
The patient had undergone about 30 or 40 surgeries over 10 years to try to improve the appearance of his face, Lantieri said. The tumors on his lips had grown so large that he could no longer eat properly or speak easily, Lantieri said.
"It was the only solution," he said.
Doctors said one of the patient's main sources of suffering was the fact that he could not get a job because of his appearance.
Despite the lifelong risks that a transplant surgery poses — episodes of rejection or even death — the patient "didn't hesitate a single second," Lantieri said, adding that the patient was "completely serene" going into the surgery.
The man remained sedated Tuesday, and still had not seen a picture of himself. The doctor did not release any identifying information about the patient or the donor.
Lantieri carried out the operation at Henri-Mondor hospital in the Paris suburb of Creteil.
In 2005, Frenchwoman Isabelle Dinoire received the world's first partial face transplant after her dog mauled her. Since that surgery, a Chinese farmer also received a partial face transplant after he was disfigured in a bear attack.
The latest procedure is different because the patient was disfigured by a genetic condition, not an accident.
Lantieri, an adviser to the French medical ethics panel, had criticized the first partial face transplant, saying Dinoire's surgeons should first have tried reconstructive surgery.
On the anniversary of Dinoire's procedure in November, doctors said her operation was a success and that she is gaining more sensitivity and facial mobility.
Doctors in Britain and the United States are also working toward similar procedures.
In October, an ethics panel approved plans by surgeons at the Royal Free Hospital in London to carry out what could be the world's first full-face transplant, though it said no patients had been selected yet. The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio is also working on plans for full-face transplants.