Texas doctors say they have done the world's first partial skull and scalp transplant to help a man with a large head wound from cancer treatment.
MD Anderson Cancer Center and Houston Methodist Hospital doctors announced yesterday that they did the operation on May 22 at Houston Methodist.
The recipient - Jim Boysen, a 55-year-old software developer - expects to leave the hospital with a new kidney and pancreas along with the scalp and skull grafts. He said he was stunned at how well doctors matched him to a donor with similar skin and colouring.
"It's kind of shocking, really, how good they got it. I will have way more hair than when I was 21," Boysen joked.
Last year, doctors in the Netherlands said they replaced most of a woman's skull with a 3-D printed plastic one. The Texas operation is thought to be the first skull-scalp transplant from a human donor, as opposed to an artificial implant or a simple bone graft.
Boysen had a kidney-pancreas transplant in 1992 to treat diabetes he has had since age five and has been on drugs to prevent organ rejection. The immune suppression drugs raise the risk of cancer, and he developed a rare type - leiomyosarcoma.
It can affect many types of smooth muscles but in his case, it was the ones under the scalp that make your hair stand on end when something gives you the creeps.
Radiation therapy for the cancer destroyed part of his head, immune suppression drugs kept his body from repairing the damage, and his transplanted organs were starting to fail - "a perfect storm that made the wound not heal," Boysen said.
Yet doctors could not perform a new kidney-pancreas transplant as long as he had an open wound. That's when Dr Jesse Selber, a reconstructive plastic surgeon at MD Anderson, thought of giving him a new partial skull and scalp at the same time as new organs as a solution to all of his problems.
It took 18 months for the organ procurement organization, LifeGift, to find the right donor, who provided all organs for Boysen and was not identified.
Boysen "had a wound that was basically all the way through his skull to his brain," Selber said.
In a 15-hour operation by about a dozen doctors and 40 other health workers, Boysen was given a cap-shaped, 25cm x 25cm skull graft, and a 38cm-wide scalp graft starting above his forehead, extending across the top of his head and over its crown.
Boysen said he already has sensation in the new scalp.
"That kind of shocked the doctor. He was doing a test yesterday and I said, 'Ouch I feel that.' He kind of jumped back," Boysen said.