Face Transplant Recipient gets donor’s Rosacea

Written by on April 10, 2010 in in the news with 9 Comments

As we all well know there are lots of things worse than rosacea. And, it turns out that one of the things worse than rosacea is having half a face.

You see, James Maki who last year received a partial face transplant reports that, in spite of now being permanently red faced on account of the donor being a rosacean, he is very pleased with the outcome.

How astonishing and how very intriguing. Questions, questions, questions!

If, as is assumed by many, rosacea is evidence of some internal derangement – in the gut perhaps – or some profound irregularity in the body, might we expect Mr. Maki’s rosacea to improve?

If his rosacea does improve is this firm evidence that – in the absence of the disease engine to drive symptom proliferation – broken blood vessels can heal, that unwanted vessels will vanish without the intervention of ablative laser and light treatments?

If his rosacea stays the same, or gets worse, does this indicate that the disease is, after all, quite superficial, and that the symptoms and cause are both to be found about the layers of the skin: its nerves, tiny vessels and structural elements?

However, we should perhaps resist the urge to look upon Mr. Maki as a resource for science, as a guinea pig.  And, while the number of rosacea sufferers is reported to have risen in the United States these last few years, it is unbearably poignant to reflect that Mr. Maki’s recent diagnosis will not have contributed to that rise

Face Transplant Recipient: ‘How Can I Be Disappointed?’

James Maki Discusses Highs & Lows Of Recovery

BOSTON — The Massachusetts man who received partial face transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital one year ago is recovering better than he and his doctors had hoped.

James Maki, 60, became only the second American to receive a face transplant during a 17-hour operation on April 8-9, 2009.

From 2005 until his transplant in 2009 Maki lived with a severely disfigured face, the result of a fall onto an electrified subway rail. He lost his nose, cheeks, palate and upper lip.

Then in April 2009 Joseph Helfgot, a local father and husband, passed away after heart transplant surgery. His widow, Susan Whitman-Helfgot, knew that organ donation was the right decision.

Weeks after the operation, Maki, his doctors and Whitman-Helfgot held a news conference at which Maki told the world, “I will forever be grateful."

“I got Joseph’s nose, and the rest of it, all this,” Maki told Brunner this month as he gestured to his cheeks. “He had rosacea, which I now have.”

Maki is able to smell with his new nose. He’s also able to taste. “I think everything is close to working right or working alright,” he said.

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9 Reader Comments

  1. The prospect of getting answers to the questions you raise, at least anecdotally, is really exciting. I like to think that if I were in the position of Mr. Maki, I would not feel reduced by being the focus of such inquiry. It would depend on how I was approached. I guess that’s your point. Thanks for this post.

  2. Jenny says:

    How extremely interesting! Happy for Mr Maki in one way but not another – a kind of double edged sword. He has his face back alas a damaged one. Happy in a big way but now has to live as a Rosacean. Certainly adds more to the ‘theory’ ideas we have as a cause and possible cure one day!

  3. andrew says:

    someone should aproach him about possible testing and research

  4. Jasmine 215 says:


    Do you think they (the transplant team) should have refused to take the face of a donor with a skin disease? Like Acne or Rosacea? It’s something to think about.

    Would you accept corneas from a blind person?

    Maybe there aren’t enough donors to go around.

    I would think they would definitely match with race and gender, but a skin condition should give somewhat of a pause.

  5. E.L.Hodge says:

    Hey Jasmine

    Interesting point. Would I accept corneas from a blind person?…No.

    Would I accept corneas from a person with short-sightedness or long-sightedness?…Yep, I think so.

    Rosacea skin, while imperfect, is still very much skin. It may be red and prone to eruptions but it still adequately performs the two chief functions of skin: to keep stuff in and out of the body and to render the bearer recognisably human ( A transplant from a gorilla or a dog would be probably inadvisable).

    An eye that cannot see, is, in a sense, not an eye at all.

  6. If it is true that people who receive a heart transplant feel that they get some new view of life (and attribute some of that to the new organ), then I wonder if someone with a new face takes on something of a new personality also.

    Looking at yourself in the mirror and not seeing something that you recognise must be something truly surreal.

  7. Jasmine 215 says:

    I know we all see things a little bit differently.


  8. Thanks to the user GJ for pointing out some interesting related comments have recently been published;

    Transmission of Rosacea from the Graft in Facial Allotransplantation.

    “Our FA-recipient developed an almost identical rosacea-like eruption of the FA 2.5 years postgraft (Figure 1). This was most likely due to excessive, long-lasting applications of clobetasol, a high-potency steroid cream known to induce rosacea; the eruption subsided completely upon clobetasol discontinuation and oral cyclin treatment. “

  9. Jenny says:

    Thanks for posting GJ’s find David. Makes for interesting reading indeed.

    I was told today by a work colleague that his friend had a double lung replacement but one lung was full of Cancer. He survived the Chemo but today had his ear removed due to Cancer.

    One has to wonder if the body already had the ‘pre-requisites’ for Cancer or did the new lung actually make it happen? I guess science will figure it out with full conviction either way eventually.

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