A Texas man has become the first person to undergo a skull and scalp transplant - and doctors say the successful operation has given him "a new lease on life". James Boysen, a 55 year-old software engineer, underwent the procedure as part of his recovery from cancer, which had left the top half of his head severely damaged.
The craniofacial tissue transplant was carried out at the same time as a kidney and pancreas transplant at Houston Methodist hospital on 22 May. All of the organs, tissue and bone came from the same donor to give the operation the best chance of success. In total, the surgery took almost a day to complete, but Boysen is now on the mend.
"I'm amazed at how great I feel and am forever grateful that I have another chance to get back to doing the things I love and be with the people I love," Boysen said, as the Guardian reports. More than 50 healthcare professionals were involved in total in planning the surgery, which had been in the pipeline for two years.
"This is a microsurgical procedure," Michael Klebuc, plastic surgeon at the Houston Methodist Hospital, explained to the Associated Press. "To get the bone and the scalp tissue to survive in the new location, you have to connect blood vessels under a microscope with little stitches about half the diameter of a human hair."
The medical team said they only considered the unprecedented skull and scalp procedure because Boysen was already undergoing another pair of transplants and would therefore already be taking the drugs that would help his body accept the newly added organs.
It was after undergoing a first kidney-pancreas transplant in 1992 that Boysen developed leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the smooth muscles under the scalp. The effects of the radiation treatment he underwent left his own skull and scalp severely damaged, and that's why doctors decided to take the drastic step. A number of patients across the world have received artificial skull grafts in the past, but this is believed to be the first using a human donor.
Boysen said he was in "awe" of how well the doctors had done and how closely they were able to match his natural skin and hair colour - he's already reported a sense of feeling returning to the top of his head. "It's kind of shocking, really, how good they got it. I will have way more hair than when I was 21," he joked.
As for the donor who made all of this possible, he hasn't been publicly identified. "I'm glad the donor family had the generosity and insight to approve us doing this, to get through their grief and approve the donation of this tissue besides the organs," said A Osama Gaber, transplant chief at Houston Methodist.