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French surgeon performs successful full-face transplant

PARIS - A 35-year-old man with a genetic disorder has an entirely new face, including tear ducts that cry, and a chin that sprouts stubble, thanks to a rare full-face transplant performed by a French surgeon and hailed as an advance in improving the lives of the disfigured.

Dr. Laurent Lantieri, one of the few doctors in the world who has performed face transplants, said yesterday that the patient, named Jerome, "gave me two thumbs-up" after the June 27 operation at the Henri-Mondor hospital in the Paris suburb of Creteil.

"He is very happy, but that is not the final goal for us, a pretty picture," Lantieri said. "The final goal for us is social re-insertion," or allowing the patient to reconstruct a life not haunted by a deformed face.

Rivals called the operation, similar to one carried out in Barcelona in April, a new achievement in facial transplants, a procedure that has gradually gained global acceptance since the first was conducted in 2005, also in France, on a female victim of a dog attack.

Lantieri claimed the latest surgery was the first involving so many different facial features. The hospital said it was the 12th face transplant worldwide.

Replacing eyelids and tiny tear ducts is especially challenging, other surgeons said. The nerves must regrow, and the lids must be sturdy enough to protect the eyes but supple and swift enough to blink.

"We can see that he already has tears, so that's not a problem," Lantieri said. It will be another few months before doctors can be sure the patient can blink correctly, he said. Hospital workers already have shaved stubble growing out of Jerome's new chin, he said.

A near-total face transplant was carried out in Cleveland in 2008, on a woman who also was also shot in the face.

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