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The price tag for the first face transplant in the U.S. is...
January 27th, 2011
12:07 PM ET

The price tag for the first face transplant in the U.S. is...

Face transplant: $349,959

A year’s supply of immune-suppressing drugs: $14,000 – $20,000

Being able to breathe, to eat and to feel better about appearing in public: priceless

After celebrating the initial success of the first face transplant in the United States, the doctors who performed the operation assessed the financial cost in a report published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

That transplant done in 2008 at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, restored a gunshot victim, Connie Culp her sense of taste, smell and gave her a new face.

Before the transplant, Culp had 23 reconstructive surgeries.  The cost of all these traditional procedures was $353,480 – covered by her insurance company.

The cost of the face transplant plus one year of her post-operation care was $349,959 – which was slightly less than the cost of Culp’s other operations.

Dr. Maria Siemionow, who led the face transplant team, said the $4,000 difference isn’t huge, but it indicates that face transplants cost close to the sum of several reconstructive procedures and deliver better results.

“The message which I’m trying to give is that patients can have improvements of their quality of life and go through less suffering,” she said.  “However, no patient could afford [a face transplant] out-of-pocket.”

The procedure is not covered by insurance companies, because it is considered experimental surgery and only 11 operations have been done in the last five years.

“There are many patients who benefit from this type of reconstructive complex surgery like a face transplant,” Siemionow said.  “There is the hope that there will be resources which will cover the cost of a face transplant.”

Cleveland Clinic covered the cost of Culp’s transplant and will provide her post-operation care. She requires monthly check-ups  and will take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of her life – those drugs cost between $14,000 to $20,000 a year.

Had Culp not received the face transplant, she would’ve needed five to 10 additional surgeries, Siemionow said.

Culp’s previous two dozen surgeries did not help her regain function or appearance. She breathed through a tracheotomy tube, which extended from a hole in her neck, and fed herself through a gastric tube attached to her stomach.

“You cannot put it in dollars,” Siemionow said.  “The patient is going through suffering which is not measurable.”

Culp now speaks, breathes and eats without devices. She has appeared on CNN, talking about how her life has improved, how she’s able to go outside without distress.  Before her transplant, Culp said she was afraid to go out in public because of the relentless teasing and staring.

Siemionow and her co-authors wrote in the journal article: “Although the cost of facial transplantation is considerable, the alleviation of psychological and physiological suffering, exceptional functional recovery and fulfillment of long-lasting hope for social reintegration may be priceless.”

It remains to be seen whether more institutions will explore face transplantation and offer the procedure to patients.


soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Christine

    She looks fabulous! She must feel like a million bucks. She may not be "beautiful" by societal standards, but the bright smile on her face says it all, and she can look in the mirror and see a normal face. I can't imagine what she went through or how she must feel now.

    Science has its problems - but it also has its miracles!

    January 27, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cameron

      This was no miracle. A lot of people worked extremely hard researching and figuring out how to successfully transplant someone's face onto another. This woman is very fortunate and her happiness is insurmountable. I'm truly happy for her, but this wasn't miraculous chance, this incredible operation was on purpose.

      February 1, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
    • TRuth

      @Cameron, you equate miracles to chance, which is a logical fallacy. Your personal emotional and intellectual baggage with regards to the word miracle is irrelevant to this comment, and this article.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
  2. me

    Finally a story with a happy ending! She looks so good!

    January 27, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tomi

      I think that the best e-cig I have ever used is the Blackjack 2 piece model from 21 Century Smoking. They have a decen vtaeiry of cartridges as well. Personally, I prefer the models with cartomizers, and their cartomizers don't disappoint at all!

      February 1, 2012 at 05:23 | Report abuse |
    • znntnnx

      84Pyr0 kaqgwwudnrxt

      February 3, 2012 at 06:12 | Report abuse |
    • orwlirfcpu

      CQdyXR rbcysfwxknog

      February 4, 2012 at 05:43 | Report abuse |
  3. pragmatic

    If it's science, it's not a "miracle". Science has very few "problems" compared to what it has done for mankind. It is an insult to all of the scientists to infer that their hard work is some "miracle".

    January 27, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TRuth

      @pragmatic, you equate miracles to chance, which is a logical fallacy. Your personal emotional and intellectual baggage with regards to the word miracle is irrelevant to this comment, and this article.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
  4. OldTechie

    Kudos to the CC ofr helping give Ms. Culp her lfie back. This raises the big question about how much we as a society are prepared to pay for quality health care. Ms.Culp's case is spectacular, but one wonders about how many people with less serious problems might have gotten life-improving, life-saving care for this amoutn of money. Somewhere in the political debate about "Obama-care" should be the the human side.

    January 27, 2011 at 14:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. sciencenerd

    Science in itself is a miracle. Its an insult to god for scientist to take credit for his miracle.

    January 27, 2011 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anon

      God doesn't exist idiot, and if he does he obviously doesn't give a **** about humans.

      January 27, 2011 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • Yakobi.

      There are no gods or goddesses, demons or devils, ghosts or goblins. Religion was invented by man to control the masses.

      January 27, 2011 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
    • jackal&jester

      I might say that god may not care at all. I mean he or she did let her get shot in the first place.

      January 27, 2011 at 16:45 | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Yakobi, Religion was invented by man in a first attempt explain the world around him. Then over time it was bogged down by dogma and corruption, forever wrapping it in fear and close mindedness. Pure science attempts the same thing but dogma and corruption can follow it as well...... Beware of blind obedience and taking things at face value. Think for yourself at all times, let no one else do the thinking for you.

      January 27, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • TRuth

      You are all phase 2

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

      Anger – Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.:

      March 27, 2012 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  6. Jim P

    She got her life back....enough said.

    January 27, 2011 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ellen

    According to W, she should have just gone to the emergency room.

    January 27, 2011 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ken

    Now the question is, will this kind of progress be made under Obama care ? What if some new life quality raising procedure is not as cost effective would it even get tried?

    January 27, 2011 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris R

      Ken, Obamacare doesn't really address these issue as it was not health care reform but insurance law reform. Being that this operation wasn't and won't be covered by insurance for quite sometime the question doesn't apply. However, if procedures of this sort provide a better outcome for equivalent cost (which it seems to do) then most any insurance company will cover it as it ends up being, over all, cheaper.

      Health care reform will, when we finally get around to it, focus on making sure that treatments are effective and provide real benefit. If there is a treatment that costs $200,000 and will probably not work and even if it does only extend life by another 2 to 3 months (like with some cancer drugs on the market now) then, I would hope, those sort of treatments will be denied.

      January 27, 2011 at 17:07 | Report abuse |
    • Jack Cornhole

      Obama would have done to here what he intends to do to all the old people. Strap em in the wheelchair and over the cliff they go...

      January 28, 2011 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Life changing and life saving procedures should cost a lot. Its not a right to extend your life beyond what it is naturally. Its a privilege, one that should be paid for.

    Basic health care needs to be universal but specialized forms of care should cost you alot of money. EVERYONE needs basic health care but for the random times you may need specialized forms, you should pay for it yourself.

    January 27, 2011 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ines

      wait until you get sick.

      February 5, 2011 at 23:12 | Report abuse |
  10. heartmtinky

    "If there is a treatment that costs $200,000 and will probably not work and even if it does only extend life by another 2 to 3 months (like with some cancer drugs on the market now) then, I would hope, those sort of treatments will be denied." Really, Mike? You have surely not had a family member who has needed one of these life saving or life changing treatments...I am 34 years old..if I were dying of an incurable cancer, HELL YES would I want this kind of life saving treatment, no matter the cost, even if it only gave me a few more precious months with my family.

    January 27, 2011 at 20:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. sickoftheinsurancecos

    We need to get the insurance companies out of practicing medicine and into paying our bills. This won't happen until we quit allowing them to pay for our lawmakers' campaigns. Its that simple.

    January 27, 2011 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ceasar Salad w/Booger bits

      Ya and I bet you are about as stupid as you look. You have no clue what insurance companies do, dont do. Even the concept of adverse selection is no doubt foreign to you. SHUT YOUR MOUTH and crawl back into the toilet from whence you slithered.

      January 28, 2011 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  12. Christine

    For you doorknobs who say there is "no god", well actually, there is God. True religion and true science go hand in hand. True religion is infinitely logical and infinitely scientific. Science will never explain religion, but religion can explain science. If you base your narrow-minded atheism on literal translations and understanding of the bible, you fail. The Bible is neither a history, geological nor science text book. It is all true, but it is a symbolic understanding of truth. There are no contradictions, only misunderstandings. The "contradictions" only appear to those who are not logical enough, nor open enough, to perceive the truth for themselves.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • thank you

      For explaining why free will and omniscience are not contradictory concepts, in a logical way, where logic is something along the lines of putting the same inputs into a computer program that has no randomness factor and always getting back the same result.
      The fact that your entire comment consisted of name-calling and generic circular assertions without any supporting evidence whatsoever makes me doubt your ability to accomplish this task just a little bit, but it's usually polite to thank people regardless.

      February 24, 2011 at 02:41 | Report abuse |
    • TRuth

      @thank you

      your common is meaningless gibberish, if you wish to try and sound smart to avoid debating facts, use sentences and try to have an actual point.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:25 | Report abuse |
    • TRuth

      comment*

      (you can also correct your typos, which in your case is your whole post.)

      March 27, 2012 at 16:26 | Report abuse |
  13. laurie

    people on here are truly horrible..and we wonder whats wrong with our world..

    January 28, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TRuth

      it's a hybrid of the 60s and 3 year arts degrees, poured on top of a false sense of "knowledge" combined with a misguided belief that one is not "one of the masses".

      March 27, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse |
  14. q4bee

    Sounds all good, but why didn't they fix her eyes? That's only skin deep, or so it appears.

    March 27, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. q4bee

    It's great they can fix people at a great cost, but I still think these maimed people would have been better off dead. I'll make sure my will addresses this issue for myself.

    March 27, 2012 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.