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China's pioneering face-transplant recipient dies

China's first face-transplant patient died probably because he stopped taking immune-suppressing drugs, the doctor who performed the operation said recently.

Li Guoxing survived for about two years after the surgery in April 2006, dying at his home in a small village in southwestern China's Yunnan Province. But the media did not find out about his death until late last year, six months after his death, Life Week magazine reported this week.

Li was the third patient in the world to receive a face transplant after a bear destroyed the right side of his face in 2003.

Exhuming bodies and autopsies are considered taboo by the ethnic minority Lisu so the cause of his death will never be known.

But Guo Shuzhong, who operated on Li, told the magazine he heard Li sometimes stopped taking immune-suppressing drugs and took herbal medications instead and that may have proved fatal. The immune-suppressing drugs stop the recipient rejecting the donor's tissue.

Li might not have believed that and thought he had fully recovered, said Guo, who noted that Li's village in the Nujiang Prefecture was one of the most underdeveloped areas he had visited.

The Xijing Hospital in Xi'an City, capital of Shaanxi Province, performed the transplant for free on April 13, 2006.

Despite doctors' advice to stay in hospital for observation, Li retuned to his home in December 2007 to care for his children.

The hospital provided Li with a free life-time supply of the immune-suppressing drugs Tacrolimus and CellCept, according to the magazine, and Guo told Li to never stop taking them.

Guo saw Li three weeks before his death when he visited with a documentary film crew from the Discovery Channel.

During the visit, Guo took Li to a local hospital where he showed no signs of infection or tumor, a possible side effect of the two drugs. But he did have high blood sugar, another side effect of the drugs.

The world's first partial face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Isabelle Dinoire received a new nose, chin and lips from a brain-dead donor. She has survived despite some rejection of the tissue.


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