Seventeen-year-old Xu Jianmei, a girl from a small fishing town in China’s Fujian province, became disfigured after getting burned in a fire when she was only five years old. At the time, her parents were unable to afford treatment, which meant that Xu would miss the window where optimal healing from skin grafts could occur. For most of her life, Xu has been missing a chin, eyelids, and a portion of her right ear.
In 2012 she was offered the opportunity to have her life changed beyond all recognition. Doctors proposed that they use blood vessel fascia from her leg in order to grow enough skin needed for her face. A balloon was placed in her chest in order to expand and stretch the skin as it grew. The process of growing the skin took several months and the doctors had to ensure that the skin could stay alive in its new location before the next steps could be taken.
On October 14, after an 8-hour-long surgery, Xu’s commitment paid off and she received facial reconstruction, complete with her new skin. There is currently considerable swelling from the surgery, but over the next few weeks, doctors expect the swelling to decrease and the scars to minimize as the healing process continues.
The doctors who operated on Xu are confident that she will be able to express herself more completely than ever before, as she will be able to smile for the first time since she was five years old and she will eventually even be able to blush.
Last month, it was revealed that doctors were using a similar technique on a 22-year-old man, also from Fujian, who has been growing a new nose for transplant on his forehead following a devastating automobile accident. His doctors are pleased with the progress and say the surgery will be performed soon.