As ABC's poignant documentary series Boston Med (Thursday, 10/9c, ABC) has unfurled, we've witnessed the treatment of a wounded police officer, an infant heart procedure and a risky brain surgery. While all were undeniably remarkable, none are as mesmerizing as the case that makes up tonight's finale — a partial face transplant.
Only the second such procedure attempted in the United States, the April 2009 operation lasted 17 hours and was overseen by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a facial reconstruction expert at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It started at midnight and ran throughout the night. I took two 15-minute breaks to go to the bathroom, but I was hands-on the whole time," recalls Dr. Pomahac, who says he practiced for the marathon transplant on cadavers. "The tricky part is that you have to be confident that what you've been preparing for will really work. It's always a little different when you do dry runs and then the real thing. But fortunately, things worked out very, very well."
So well, in fact, that the patient, a man who became disfigured after suffering what the doctor calls "high-voltage burns," is starting to experience sensation in his face. "He can feel the inside of his mouth. He can move all the muscles. He can speak very clearly," Dr. Pomahac says. "It's turned out better than I would have ever hoped."
And it's made for truly stirring — and fortuitous — television. The filmmakers were in their final weeks of shooting when a donor was located for Dr. Pomahac's patient. "It was complete coincidence that the film crew was around. We had our patient on the wait list and it could have happened anytime," he says. "I am very happy that we filmed it. It's almost like watching a movie."
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