A Dublin born plastic surgeon is about to make history and perform Britain’s first full face transplant.
Professor Peter Butler already has a glowing international reputation for his pioneering work as director of surgery and trauma at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London.
Now he is poised to revolutionize the treatment of burns and accident victims and the lives of those born with facial disfigurements if his surgery is successful.
One of the world’s leading plastic surgeons, Butler and his team are awaiting a suitable donor to perform their breakthrough surgery.
A list of 50 potential recipients of a new face has been narrowed down to five at the London hospital but the donor issue makes it difficult, according to Professor Butler, to set a timescale on the procedure.
Only once before has a combined face and hand operation been performed - in the French city of Amiens in 2005 when major ethical and psychological debates preceded and followed the surgery.
Isabelle Dinoire was 41 when she received the new face after a dog mauled her at her home in Northern France.
Asked about the operation recently, Dinoire said she remains uncertain about whose face she sees in the mirror.
“It’s not hers, it’s not mine, it’s somebody else’s,” said Dinoire.
Head of the UK Facial Transplantation Research Team, Professor Butler is adamant that lessons have been learnt from the Dinoire case.
All potential patients are subjected to rigorous psychological testing and include burns victims, those involved in explosions and people with serious infections.
“Every patient going through the process has unique matching requirements so if a patient with a face and hand requirement matched the donor, then that patient would be done,” Professor Butler told the Irish Independent.
Professor Butler trained at the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians of Ireland in Dublin and also worked in the US before settling in London.
He is married with four children to Annabel Heseltine, the daughter of the controversial former Tory minister Michael Heseltine.
Butler says he was a 24-year-old trainee surgeon in Dublin when he first contemplated face transplant surgery after examining a boy so badly injured in a fire that he lost his ears and nose.
“The injuries were so bad people couldn’t bear to look at him. And I just thought that there had to be something better for a boy like him,” added Professor Butler.
“Some of the people we see have a life which they term as an existence. They spend their days inside, go to the local corner store in the evening, don’t go to the supermarket because they don’t want to be seen, they wear a hood or a veil, they take their weekly provision and go home.
“They don’t answer the door even to the postman. That isn’t a life. It really isn’t.”
The cost of the imminent British face transplant will be met by Professor Butler’s own charity Facetrust and he has also invested personally in the project.