Facial transplant surgery pioneer recounts experiences on return home
A Houston native and pioneer in facial transplant surgery at the Cleveland Clinic returned to his home state recently to share his experiences at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center, according to a news release.
Dr. Daniel Alam, hosted by Humble Surgical Hospital, spoke to a crowd of more than 50 surgeons and other specialists at the event Friday, Nov. 16, giving a presentation titled "Transplanting Faces, Transforming Lives: The Past, Present and Future of Facial Transplantation."
The presentation focused on the case of Connie Culp, a woman who had been shot in the face by her husband in 2004, destroying her nose, one eye, her upper jaw and lip, her palate and lower eyelids, according to the release.
By the time she came under Alam's care in 2008, Culp had had numerous reconstructive surgeries, but none had succeeded in returning her life to some semblance of normal, according to the release.
After more than a year of evaluation and planning, the release states, Alam and his Cleveland Clinic decided to go ahead with the attempt at facial transplant. Culp's was the first such successful surgery in the United States, according to the release. "She asked me if I had ever been a surgical patient," Alam recalled to the audience, according to the release. "I shared a time in college where I had a shoulder repair done. She then said, 'You are never as helpless in your life as the few minutes after they give you the medicine and you are drifting off to sleep."
Alam said those words stayed with him over the 22-hour operation.
"Patients have more faith in us than we have in ourselves at times," he told the audience.
The surgery was a success, according to the release, with Culp quickly regaining her ability to breathe and speak and eventually being able to smile and have other facial movement.
Today, Alam told his audience, Culp still marvels at being able to appear in public without drawing attention.
The surgery was historic, Alam said, but, even more important, it reminded him of the relationship between surgeons and their patients, according to the release.
"Our patients are our teachers and guides," he said in the release. "They are the inspiration for all we do."
Alam grew up in Clear Lake and attended college and medical school at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, according to the release.
He received his surgical training in plastic surgery with an internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital in general surgery, followed by four years of residency in the Harvard Medical School Program in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery.
He completed a fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at the UCLA Medical Center and is head of the section of facial aesthetic surgery at the Head and Neck Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, according to the release.
In honor of Alam's visit to the region, Humble Mayor Daniel McMannes issued a proclamation announcing Nov. 16 as Dr. Daniel Alam Day, according to the release.