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The Face Transplant: Modern Marvel of Medicine or Past Procedure ... Perfected?

Nick Auricchio, a summer intern from UCLA, put together the Medical Library's display on face transplants.

Robert Lee Norris accidently shot himself at age 17. Charla Nash was mauled by a chimpanzee. Both suffered horrific facial injuries. And both were successful recipients of facial transplants.

The stories of Norris and Nash are included in a display in the Medical Library that traces the progression of the face transplant from a simple procedure performed in ancient India to the complicated 36-hour procedure we know today.

Although successful organ transplants have been carried out since 1950, facial transplantation wasn't even considered to be a feasible procedure until 2002; and the first full facial transplant wasn't performed until 2010. Yet, the idea of using living facial tissue for reconstructive purposes has been around for centuries.

In 1815, Joseph Constantine Carpue, inspired by reconstructive procedures from the 15th century and ancient Indian surgical techniques, was able to rebuild the noses of two British men by using skin from their foreheads — the first published account of a reconstructive procedure. As knowledge within the medical field continued to expand, such procedures, coupled with modern medicine, made it possible for doctors to complete partial and full facial transplants.

The library display, courtesy of Nick Auricchio, a summer intern from the UCLA Department of Information Studies, features text, a copy of Carpue's revolutionary publication, 19th-century surgical instruments, and illustrations of current and past procedures.

The display is on view in the Medical Library in Room 2815 on the South Tower's Plaza Level between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday-Friday, through Sept. 30.