The First Successful Face Transplant In Canada Before/After Photos Are Stunning—Gives Hope To New Patients

Though the patient’s prognosis was far from guaranteed, last spring’s face transplant performed by a Montreal medical team was a momentous event for Canadian medicine.Since then, Maurice Desjardins’s life has been filled with obstacles, but he has managed to avoid the worst-case, which would have been his body rejecting the graft.

According to a story by Radio-Canada’s Découverte programme last year, Desjardins suffered facial disfigurement following a hunting accident in 2011. In addition to significant damage to the muscles, bones, and nerves in his face, he was left with only half of a face and constant discomfort.

How a Quebec guy became a Canadian medical miracle: The face of a stranger

Everything changed in the spring of last year when the high-risk treatment was carried out at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital by surgeon Dr. Daniel Borsuk and his team. Desjardins’s face was successfully restored in its entirety with the jaw, teeth, nose, and cartilage of a donor.

Borsuk recently told Découverte, “I was in control during the graft, but afterwards, during the recovery time, I was no longer in control of anything,” he claimed that Desjardins has had a trying and trying year.

Desjardins still needs a feeding tube, so eating is just one of many things that he finds challenging. He needs everything to be crushed up before he can eat it. He has shed sixty-five pounds after the procedure.

Gaétane, his wife, is mostly responsible for his care. She drives Desjardins between their home in Notre-Dame-de-la-Sallette and checks in Montreal, which is two hours away, and assists in administering the approximately fifteen prescriptions he needs to take each day.

Maurice makes me feel at ease. I become stressed out when I’m not with him.

“I’m always afraid of making a mistake. There are so many different types of medication. I have to pay close attention to what I’m doing,” she told Découverte. “It’s really a 24/7 job.”

Gaétane gave up her job to care for her spouse full-time since it all became too much for her to handle. The couple suffered a financial loss as a result.

Borsuk said he was unaware that transplant recipients lacked financial assistance.

“I think that we have a great public [health care] system and I think it works really well, but the problem with some of these transplant patients is most of them don’t live near a transplant centre,” he stated.

“They have to leave their homes, get in their car, pay for parking, pay for gas, pay for medication, which aren’t always covered. And so it ends up being a quite expensive year for these patients.”

Special patient-doctor bond

Dr. Borsuk has developed a deep relationship with his patient over their shared journey.

“There have been a lot of ups and downs. A lot of waves,” In a recent interview with Découverte, Desjardins stated.

According to Borsuk, they experience every victory and setback together. It’s common for them to hold hands or even hug during examinations.

“I am close to my patients, but with him, it’s another level,” said Borsuk. “Maybe it’s a bit too close? But that’s on me.”

The surgeon said that managing connections with patients such as Desjardins can be challenging, as he frequently worries about his daily well-being.

“When I see Maurice, I am relaxed,” Borsuk said. “It’s when I’m not with him, that’s when I’m stressed.” 

Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital

Bout of infections, low morale

Desjardins will need to take strong immunosuppressants for the remainder of his life as a cost of his new appearance. The drug has two drawbacks: although it keeps his body from rejecting the transplant, it also makes him susceptible to even minor illnesses.

Gaétane declared, “He caught everything that he could catch.” Throughout his recuperation, Desjardins visited the hospital numerous times due to three serious infections. He was in the hospital for three months in all.

Everything came to a climax in March when he became ill with diverticulitis, an illness of the digestive system. His intestines developed an infection and eventually burst in a pocket.

In order to implant a temporary colostomy bag—an external pouch that will hold his body’s waste while his intestine heals—he had surgery.

Desjardins and his spouse have experienced a great deal of stress due to the hospital stays and constant examinations. He lost motivation and neglected his exercises for a few months, which is why he needs to get full control over his jaw and face again.

Dr. Borsuk responded, “You know, I can’t blame him. It’s hard to focus on doing your exercises when you have things that are physically hurting you.”

For the first time in a year, Desjardins went two weeks without an infection in April 2019.

“I have been happy for two weeks, because I’ve been out of the hospital for two weeks,” he stated at the time.

However, because of the hiatus from his workouts, Desjardins’ speech is limited and he can no longer close his mouth as completely as he once could. He finds it hard to articulate himself.

Desjardins’s speech can be hard to understand, therefore Gaétane will frequently “translate” for the benefit of others when he speaks.

Borsuk expressed his belief that his patient will put in a lot of effort to restore control over his jaw.

He remarked, “I’m sure he’ll get it back. It’s like when you have a cast on your wrist: If you don’t move your wrist for a month, it’s going to be stiff.”


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Grateful to donor’s family

Desjardins’s rehabilitation is being monitored by Dr. Suzon Collette, who stated that the experiences he has had over the past year are normal for a patient undergoing a transplant.

“There are good times, months where everything is going well, and then there are steps back, defeats, unexpected things,” she stated.

At the end of the day, Collette stated, the patients manage to overcome the challenges.

Accepting his new physical identity is one area where Desjardins has not had difficulty. When he saw a stranger’s reflection in the mirror, the medical staff feared he would get agitated or disturbed.

It’s true that he now thinks himself attractive. Yes, he is.

Desjardins, though, claimed that wasn’t tough for him. Above all, he is merely grateful.

“It’s going very well. I am so grateful to the donor’s family,” he said.

Gaétane expressed her liking for her husband’s appearance. She claimed that he didn’t give his face any thought before the accident.

“Now, he finds himself handsome, and it’s true. He is,” she said.

Desjardins stated he has no regrets regarding the surgery, despite the agony and difficulties he experienced after the treatment.

He recently commented, “It was worth it,” while holding hands with his wife and lounging on his couch at home.

Grinning at her spouse, Gaétane agreed.

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