Injured Troops Offered Faceswap

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Face transplants offered to wounded Iraq veteransFace transplants offered to wounded Iraq veterans
by Sarah-Kate Templeton

THE British surgeon pioneering face transplants has offered to treat war veterans who have suffered disfiguring battle injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under the proposal by Peter Butler, clinical lead for plastic surgery at the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London, soldiers could be among the recipients of the first full face transplants that his team are expected to carry out next year. “We definitely would offer treatment to any veterans who approached us,” said Butler. “We owe a debt to these people.”

Butler has already advised representatives from the US military who believe nine soldiers could benefit from face transplants. He believes a very small number of former British servicemen may also be suitable candidates. The Royal Free team have been granted ethical permission for a full face transplant and are now assessing suitable candidates.

In 2005, Isabelle Dinoire, a French woman who had been savaged by a dog, became the first person to receive a partial face transplant. Butler’s team, however, are believed to be furthest ahead in progress towards a full transplant. The choice of candidates is a lengthy process. In addition to being physically robust and having a sufficiently serious injury, the patient must also be assessed as psychologically capable of coping with having a dead person’s face for the rest of their life…

     

Psychological counselling and conventional facial reconstruction have also been offered to the 30 patients so far referred to Butler and Dr Alex Clarke, the team’s psychologist, either through the Face Trust, the charity he set up, or via the hospital.

Simon Weston, a former Welsh Guardsman who suffered extensive severe burns in the Falklands War, has learnt to live with his disfigurement but he believes other soldiers may need more radical treatment.

“There may be soldiers who have been disfigured for the past four years who may feel that they are so unhappy with their appearance they may wish to look at different alternatives,” he said. “Face transplant is the only option for full reconstruction.

“With the best will in the world, conventional reconstruction cannot give back a normal appearance. These facial disfigurements do need to be dealt with because these soldiers are not as close to normal as they could get.”

There has been widespread concern that British soldiers are not offered the best medical care in the NHS following the closure of army hospitals. Research by the Royal British Legion found that only 10% of war pensioners currently entitled to priority treatment for their service-related condition are actually getting it under the NHS.

Weston added: “I was fortunate in that I was offered excellent care in a military hospital. That hospital no longer exists. I was able to stay in hospital for a month but there was no question of me bed-blocking.”

The Sunday Times-backed Help for Heroes campaign, raising money for a new swimming pool and gymnasium at Headley Court, the armed forces rehabilitation centre in Surrey, has raised more than £1m.


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