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How Face Transplants Work

Facial Reattachment Surgery

The first step to face transplant surgery was reattachment of a patient's own face. In 1994, 9-year-old Sandeep Kaur was chopping grass to feed the family buffalo at her home in northern India when her hair became caught in the threshing machine. Her entire face -- scalp and hair included -- was torn off. Sandeep's family put her face in a bag and drove the child by moped to the nearest major medical center, which was three and a half hours away. When surgeons assessed Sandeep, they decided that skin grafts would still leave her so disfigured that she'd never have a normal appearance. Instead, they performed surgery to reattach her face and scalp.

Sandeep's doctors made history by performing what was in essence the first human face transplant. Sandeep was left with some scars, and she's never regained full mobility in her face, but she has been able to lead a normal life since her operation. A handful of other successful face reattachment surgeries followed, including an operation at Massachusetts General Hospital on a man who'd gotten his hair caught in a conveyer belt at work.