Doctor in face transplant coming home
Plastic surgeon trained at Mcgill
A Montreal-born plastic surgeon was part of the team of doctors that performed the world’s most extensive face transplant ever in the United States this month.
And Dr. Daniel Borsuk, who earned his medical degree from Mcgill University, is returning to Montreal in July to practise at two of the city’s hospitals, perhaps to one day carry out what would be Canada’s first face transplant.
“You feel a certain sense of owing back to your community, to the people who did support you through all those years,” Borsuk said of his decision to return to Montreal.
“I spent 15 years in postsecondary education, mostly funded by the Quebec government, at Mcgill and the Université de Montréal, where I did my residency training in plastic surgery.”
Although he was tempted by offers to stay in the U.S., the 34-year-old Borsuk said, he wanted to be with his family in Montreal. And he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform reconstructive plastic surgery on children with congenital abnormalities at Ste. Justine Hospital, and to do the same at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital for adults severely injured in accidents.
“I think that’s something that I’ll have to discuss with the team in Montreal,” Borsuk said of the possibility of performing a face transplant in Quebec. “I think there are a bunch of parties that are interested.”
Borsuks’s parents are “over the moon” about their son’s medical accomplishments.
“As parents, we’re thrilled that he’s coming back with his wife and child,” Eileen Borsuk said. “I think he has a lot to offer. It’s a bonus for Montreal, Quebec and Canada to have him share his fantastic skills.”
On March 19-20, Borsuk took part in a 36-hour operation to graft a face on Richard Norris, a 37-year-old Virginia native who lost his lips, nose and teeth in a 1997 gun accident. The surgery, led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, took place at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
It was the 23rd such face transplant in the world, and represents a quantum leap forward in the field, experts say.
“Our case was the most extensive done ever, because it included the upper jaw, the lower jaw, the teeth, part of the tongue and all of the soft tissue from the top of the scalp down to the bottom of his neck,” Borsuk explained.
“We tried to get a more functional and esthetic result by using the entire face.”
Norris is recovering better than doctors hoped, as he is already able to move his tongue as well as open and close his eyes.
The surgery was also significant because doctors expected that Norris’s immune system will tolerate the face transplant better than in previous cases. In Norris’s transplant, the inclusion of the jaw – with lots of bone marrow and a steady supply of blood – offers added protection from rejection.
Borsuk said that after having practised in the U.S. for nearly a year, he’s more convinced than ever of the merits of Canada’s public health-care system.
“I think it’s fair to say that the average person in Canada gets an excellent level of care,” he said. “No matter what station you are in your life, the average Canadian gets great health care.
“And I think in the United States, the average person gets care that’s below that, but if you have the means you’ll get the highest level of health care and better access.
“I absolutely support a universal health care system,” he added. “I think it’s paramount that society take care of its citizens.”
Before and after photos show the difference groundbreaking facial transplant surgery made to the appearance of Richard Norris of Hillsville, Va. Montreal-trained Dr. Daniel Borsuk was part of the team in the 36-hour surgery.
Daniel Borsuk is returning to Montreal this summer to practise at two hospitals.