spend leisure time, and ask them to help us encourage the
American public to sign up as organ donors,” she says. “It’s
really a social psychology outreach approach.”
Encouraging living donation
Psychologists are also easing the wait time for organs by
encouraging patients to consider living donations. According to
An identity transplant
What is it like to look in the
mirror and see a face that is
not the one you have always
that’s the question
Carla Bluhm, PhD, of the
College of Coastal Georgia,
has been asking since
beginning research on the
psychological effects of face
transplants in 2006. Several
months before beginning her
research, surgeons in France
had performed the world’s
first partial face transplant
on a 38-year-old woman
who was disfigured by a dog
attack, Bluhm says.
“two years after her transplant, [this patient]
was saying things like, ‘I’m not sure who I am,’ and
‘old photographs are highly disturbing because I
can never be that person again,’” says Bluhm, co-
author with Columbia University teachers College
doctoral student nathan Clendenin of “Someone
else’s Face in the Mirror: Identity and the new
Science of Face transplants” (Praeger, 2009).
In addition to the medical concerns faced by
all transplant recipients, including a lifetime of
immunosuppressant drugs and the possibility of
organ rejection, face transplant recipients must
also deal with the surgery’s psychological effects
on — and potential threat to — their identity,
“With internal organ transplants, issues of
the latest data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, 44
ethnicity are moot — a liver is a liver,” Bluhm
says. “But a nose carries with it meaning; it acts
as a signifier of family heritage and belonging.
these issues are completely unique.”
Bluhm notes that how well face transplant
recipients are able to “find themselves” in the
percent of organ donations now involve living donors. Living
kidney donation is most common, and living liver donation,
where a portion of a donor’s liver is transferred to a recipient
in need, is possible for some patients. There’s also evidence that
living donor organs can result in better transplant recipient
health and survival outcomes.
mirror after a face transplant may depend on how
much they feel their identity is tied to appearance.
With so many disfigurements occurring among
soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, experimental
face transplants may soon become more common
for injured military personnel, Bluhm says. Face
transplants for civilians also continue to increase.
In March, for example, a texas construction
worker badly disfigured in a power line accident
received the nation’s first full face transplant at
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Psychologists have an important role to play
both in evaluating potential transplant candidates
and in working with them post-transplant to
manage the psychological issues they may face.
“A face transplant will only be helpful for
its recipient insofar as it offers the possibility
of enriching the narrative of one’s life through
putting a new face to one’s identity,” Bluhm says.
“Psychologists can help face transplant recipients