MADRID – A Spanish man who underwent a partial face transplant hugged his surgeon Tuesday and expressed gratitude to the donor's family as he appeared in public for the first time since the January operation.
The patient, identified only as Rafael, spoke with difficulty at a news conference at Seville's Virgen del Rocio Hospital, where he had undergone the 30-hour surgery.
"I want to thank the donor's family and the medical team," said Rafael, who was flanked by his mother and sister at the briefing, after which he was released from the hospital.
The hospital said that for privacy reasons it would not release his last name or age.
Doctors replaced the bottom two-thirds of Rafael's face because of a congenital disease that left it deformed with benign tumors.
Dr. Tomas Gomez Cia, head of the hospital's plastic surgery unit, said Rafael had asked to address the media because of its interest in his case and because he thought appearing in public would encourage donations in cases like his.
Rafael said now he wants the media to respect his privacy. "I want to be left alone," he said.
Months of rehabilitation await him, but Rafael can now distinguish between hot and cold and feel pain in his lips.
After the operation, Rafael recognized himself in the mirror and liked what he saw, Gomez Cia said. "Not only did he not see himself as a monster, but rather he also thought he looked younger."
Last month a hospital in Barcelona carried out the world's first full-face transplant. It was the 11th known face transplant worldwide. Others have been carried out in France, China and the United States.
Rafael's was the second partial face transplant performed in Spain.