Polish face transplant recipient improving, doctor says

Warsaw, PolandA surgeon who operated on Poland's first face transplant patient says the man is already practicing swallowing and making sounds.

The 33-year-old man received a skin-and-bone transplant on May 15, weeks after losing his nose, upper jaw and cheeks in a workplace accident in what his doctors said was the fastest time frame to date for such an operation.

Dr. Maciej Grajek told The Associated Press on Monday the man is practicing to swallow liquids, has gotten out of bed a few times this weekend, communicates through writing and can make sounds when his tracheotomy tube - which helps him breathe - is closed for a moment. Grajek called that "very good progress."

The patient remains in isolation to guard against infections.

The man had received the life-saving face transplant just three weeks after being disfigured in the accident. The rare procedures typically require extensive preparation, like months or years.

The patient had worked at stonemason's workshop near the southwestern city of Wroclaw where on April 23, a machine used to cut stone tore off most of his face and crushed his upper jaw.

The man, identified only as Grzegorz, received intensive treatment at a hospital in Wroclaw, but an attempt to reattach his own face failed, leaving an area close to the brain exposed to infections, doctors said. The damage was too extensive for doctors to temporarily seal the exposed areas.

He was taken to the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology in Gliwice, the only place in Poland licensed to perform face transplants. The center has experience in facial reconstruction for patients disfigured by cancer and its experts have practiced face transplants on cadavers.

Doctors at the center said the 27-hour face and bone transplant was performed May 15 soon after a matching donor was found.

The surgery reconstructed the area around the eyes, the nose, jaws and palate and other parts of the man's face. Pictures show surgery stitches running from above the patient's right eye, under the left eye and around the face to the neck.

The donor, a 34-year-old man, was chosen from a national registry of potential donors after his age, gender, blood group and body features were determined to be a good match for the injured man.

A picture of the patient taken last Tuesday, six days after the surgery, showed him giving a thumbs-up sign from his hospital bed.

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