Soldier says face transplant is 'the best decision I ever made'

‘The best decision I ever made’: Hero ex-soldier, who became one of world’s first to get a FACE transplant after horrific car crash destroyed his, says thought of his children being bullied persuaded him to go through with life-changing op

  • Mitch Hunter was in a car in 2001 crashed into a 10,000 volt electrical pylon
  • A decade later, he became second person in the US to undergo a face transplant
  • He said the surgery was the ‘best decision of my life’ and has ‘moved on’ with life

An ex-soldier who was the second man to undergo a full face transplant in US history says it is ‘the best decision I ever made’.

Mitch Hunter, from Indianapolis in Indiana, had a full face transplant in 2011, a decade after a car he was in crashed into a 10,000 volt electrical pylon.

After pushing a female passenger out of the way of the electrical current, it pumped continuously through his body, mainly through his face, for five minutes. 

Mr Hunter, now 42, was forced to spend two months in hospital, underwent 67 facial reconstructive surgeries and had part of his right leg amputated due to severe burns.

A decade after the accident, Mr Hunter became just the second person in the US to undergo a face transplant, in a bid to stop children screaming at the sight of him in the street. 

He received his face from a donor — a man who had died — and has now fully revealed his incredible transformation. 

‘Having the transplant was the best decision of my life, and it has helped me put the accident behind me and finally move on with my life,’ Mr Hunter said.

Mitch Hunter (pictured before the transplant), from Indianapolis in Indiana, had a full face transplant in 2011, a decade after a car he was in crashed into a 10,000 volt electrical pylon. After pushing a female passenger out of the way of the electrical current, it pumped continuously through his body, mainly through his face, for five minutes

Mr Hunter, now 42, in 2011  became just the second person in the US to undergo a face transplant, in a bid to stop children screaming at the sight of him in the street. It took five months for the swelling to subside and the true traits of his facial features to emerge

Mr Hunter said: ‘Having the transplant was the best decision of my life, and it has helped me put the accident behind me and finally move on with my life’

He said: ‘I barely remember anything from when the wires touched my face.

‘One minute I was helping the injured girl trying to get her away from the pole, the next I was in hospital nearly a month later.

‘I knew my injuries were serious when my mum and step mum were in the room consoling one another because they usually hated each other.

‘For a few days no one would show me a mirror, until my ex-girlfriend at the time came to visit and brought one with her. 

‘I can’t describe the feeling I had when seeing myself like that, it didn’t feel real – I was unrecognisable.

‘The girl I saved only had minor burns to her foot, but I suffered full thickness burns on every inch of my face along with my hands and right leg.

‘The burn on my leg was so severe I was also forced to have a below the knee amputation.

‘I couldn’t believe how drastically my life had changed in what was a matter of minutes.’

Mr Hunter was in a car with his friend and his friend’s girlfriend along a North Carolina highway when the friend lost control of the wheel and plowed into a pylon. 

The girlfriend jumped out the car and was struck by one of the fallen lines. After Mr Hunter pushed her out of harm’s way, the electrical current flowed through him. 

In 2011, Mr Hunter had a face transplant after receiving the go-ahead from Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Around 30 doctors spent more than 14 hours reconstructing his face during the risky operation

The procedure involved micro-vascular surgery to connect the two main arteries to the new face, allowing his heart to start supplying it with blood. Mr Hunter’s new face was taken entirely from an organ donor, including the skin, soft tissue and cartilage from their nose, beard and eyebrows

Mr Hunter said: ‘I made the decision for my kids because I didn’t want to be the reason they were bullied or outcast at school. ‘Having people scream at the sight of you is upsetting, and I couldn’t imagine that happening in the company of my own children. ‘Having the transplant was the best decision of my life, and it has helped me put the accident behind me and finally move on with my life’

Mr Hunter woke up 27 days after the accident, surrounded by his family with no memory of the crash.

He needed 20 skin grafts from his leg and back to treat the skin on his face and neck which had ‘melted’. 

HOW DOES FACE TRANSPLANT WORK?

People who have been disfigured after a severe injury, were born with defects or suffered severe burns can opt to get a face transplant.

It is a complex operation that involves screening processes, at least 16 hours of surgery and medications that need to be taken for life. 

Once a donor’s face is available, one team of surgeons operate on the recipient’s face, while the other prepares the donor’s. 

Medics then connect the arteries, nerves and veins, before remaining muscles and nerves are joined.

Patients usually spend one week in intensive care and three to four weeks in a specialist unit. 

They will undergo rehabilitation to improve speech, smiling, eating, drinking, blinking and emotional expression. 

The procedure is risky, as the body can reject the new face as a foreign object, meaning the immune system fights against it. 

Source:  Johns Hopkins University

Mr Hunter and his girlfriend carried on with their lives and focused on his recovery following the initial facial surgeries, which included the skin-graft surgeries available at the time. 

But once his girlfriend became pregnant, Mr Hunter sought out new innovations so his children wouldn’t be afraid of his face.

By 2011, there had only been two successful face transplants in America, and 10 globally. There have now been around 50 performed around the world. 

That year, he had the face transplant after receiving the go-ahead from Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital. 

Around 30 doctors spent more than 14 hours reconstructing his face during the risky operation. 

He needed micro-vascular surgery to connect the two main arteries to the new face, allowing his heart to start supplying it with blood.

Mr Hunter’s new face was taken entirely from an organ donor, including the skin, soft tissue and cartilage from their nose, beard and eyebrows. 

It took five months for the swelling to subside and the true traits of his facial features to emerge. 

Mr Hunter said he underwent the transplant because he ‘didn’t want his children to be embarrassed by him in the future’.

He is now unrecognisable with a full beard and a full sensation in his face.

Mr Hunter said: ‘Strangely enough I can grow my beard which once belonged to the donor which is really weird!

‘I made the decision for my kids because I didn’t want to be the reason they were bullied or outcast at school.

‘Having people scream at the sight of you is upsetting, and I couldn’t imagine that happening in the company of my own children.

‘Having the transplant was the best decision of my life, and it has helped me put the accident behind me and finally move on with my life.’

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