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Man Receives First Scalp And Skull Transplant

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Aamna Mohdin

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362 Man Receives First Scalp And Skull Transplant
MD Anderson Cancer Center

U.S. doctors have successfully performed the world's first partial scalp and skull transplant. James Boysen received the craniofacial tissue transplant, as well as a kidney and pancreas transplant, after a rare cancer left him with a severe head wound.

Boysen is in “awe” that he’s up and walking just two weeks after his surgery. He was first diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that develops in smooth muscle, on his scalp in 2006. Though he was treated with chemotherapy and radiation, Boysen was left with a 25-by-25-centimeter (10-by-10-inch) hole on his head that left his brain vulnerable. To add to his misery, Boysen’s kidney and pancreas, which he received in 1992 to treat his diabetes, were failing. But doctors could not perform a much needed double-organ transplant if he still had an open wound.


The immune suppression drugs he was on to prevent his body rejecting the donor organs created "a perfect storm that made the wound not heal," Boysen told the Associated Press (AP).   

Dr. Jesse Selber, a reconstructive plastic surgeon at MD Anderson, soon made a connection between Boysen's failing kidney and pancreas, the anti-rejection medication he was on and the need to repair the wound on his head. The team decided to combine the surgeries, giving Boysen a scalp and partial skull transplant as well as a kidney and pancreas transplant, while still receiving protection from the medication he was taking.

"This was a truly unique clinical situation that created the opportunity to perform this complex transplant," Selber said in a statement.

The surgery saw more than 50 health care professionals, including plastic surgeons, a team of transplant surgeons and neurosurgeons, perform the first ever skull-scalp transplant from a human donor, instead of an artificial implant or bone graft.


"This was a very complex surgery because we had to transplant the tissues utilizing microsurgery," said Dr. Michael Klebuc of Houston Methodist Hospital. "Imagine connecting blood vessels 1/16 of an inch under a microscope with tiny stitches about half the diameter of a human hair being done with tools that one would use to make a fine Swiss watch."

Boysen was discharged from Houston Methodist Hospital, but will remain at Nora’s Home in Houston for several weeks of follow-up care.

"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 in a statement. He jokingly told The AP, “I will have way more hair than when I was 21.”




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