When the film 'Face Off' was released years ago, what transpired was considered a fantastic adventure, a figment of the imagination. The concept of performing face transplants hadn't even been dreamt about yet.
Meanwhile, ten years ago a Turkish doctor by the name of Betül Ulusal scientifically proved that she was able to transplant the face of a black mouse onto a white mouse. Now however, face transplants are fast becoming a regular surgery.
Prof. Dr. Ferit Demirkan answered a number of questions on the issue:
There were three face transplants conducted in Turkey back to back. Why has there been a halt?
Sometimes the same cases come one after the other, there is no special situation!
Why are university hospitals preferred in face transplant surgery?
It was more appropriate to start off in universities, however after the full-day requirement was made, a number of academics moved onto private universities or hospitals. There are micro surgeons who have never had an academic career, who are intensely conducting surgeries. If the conditions are made appropriate then transplants could also be done in private hospitals.
Which hospitals are awaiting approval to be able to conduct face transplants?
There is an application by the Acıbadem Fulya Hospital. I have also heard that both the Private Gaziosmanpaşa Hospital and the Istanbul Medical School are also in preparations.
What do you have to say regarding the face transplants that are being done throughout the world?
I think there have been 17 transplants made throughout the world. Three of these were in Turkey. Each one was actually a very difficult initiative. In America, especially this process can be very difficult. The most recent transplants were more successful. As for the ones done in Turkey, they are still very new and have not been presented to an international scientific arena.
Who was the first person to work on face transplants in Turkey?
Dr. Betül Ulusal was the first person to conduct and then publish scientific research on the topic. She conducted her studies in Dr. Maria Siemionow's laboratory in Cleveland. The work she did on mice became the first study on animals on the subject entered into world literature. After Ulusal, a number of our colleagues have since worked in the same laboratory.
Why do the face transplants we see throughout the world, appear to be quite unappealing? Do they not pay care to esthetics?
I feel that the more recent cases look much more attractive. This is because doctors have now begun sharing their experiences with one another. Technique has also advanced. Repairing facial nerves and placing the face on the recipient is now reaping much more successful results. Also, full face transplants result in being much more attractive.
You mentioned that Dr. Betül Ulusal conducted the first experimental studies. Are you saying that it was the Turks who first thought of face transplants?
Ulusal's work began with first transplanting half of the face of a black mouse onto that of a white mouse. Later, this moved on to full faces, and then partial transplants involving ears of areas of cartilage, Transplants were done on cadavers to determine how people would look. Work was done on rejections. Our Turkish colleagues have a hand in all of this. I also worked on arm-leg transplants abroad. We would transplant mice's legs. We would use a very special microscope while the animal was alive that showed the interior of vessels.
Face transplants were a dream but it did come true. What's next?
What could be the next extreme, possibly body transplants?
What is the significance of the European Microsurgery Congress being held in Turkey in four years' time?
The fact that Turkey has conducted a successful face transplant has a lot of influence on the decision to hold the conference in Antalya. Turks now hold a significant place in these types of meetings which are held all over the world. When we do not attend, our absence is felt.
How many people will attend the congress?
Our expectations are around 500. When you compare to other congresses, it may seem small, however the number of people actually doing this kind of work is also quite minimal. In other words, it will be a very special group that will be arriving.
The first face transplant done in Turkey was on Uğur Acar. How do you think the results are?
Very successful! The operation done on him also resulted in contradicting the thesis that when the bone structure is not transplanted the results will resemble the recipient, because, he resembles the donor.
What do you have to say about the transplant done on Hatice Nergis at Gazi University? Do you think that she will ever be able to live her life without people knowing that she has had a face transplant?
The case at Gazi was quite a difficult one, however it looks good. I think that in the future it won't be noticeable that she has a face transplant. Age, skin color and compatibility are also important.
Are Turkish plastic surgeons popular all over the world?
Yes, they are very popular, and their popularity is on the rise. There is a huge population interested in microsurgery. They are all young, they think, produce, print and present. As a result they do draw the attention of the world to us.
Have the transplants that have been done here, brought interest from all over the world?
Yes, the face transplants in Turkey have drawn a lot of interest and has raised our prestige. I think that we are now in a different league. They are now coming to this country to see what we are able to do. This is a great success for us.