Mitch Hunger, US hero soldier disfigured to save woman, happy to get new face

Updated: 26 Nov 2011
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New life: Mitch Hunter sits with his son Clayton and girlfriend Katarina following the amazing procedure to rebuilt his face and help him lead a more normal life
 
The 30-year-old, pictured left as a soldier before the accident which destroyed his face, was left with horrific injuries and needing skin grafts following a car crash in which he saved a woman's life.
 
Transformation: Mitch, pictured during the documentary which followed his operation, said he can now feel the breeze on his face and his girlfriend's kiss.
 
Epic: The team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anaesthesiologists and residents worked for more than 14 hours to replace Mr Hunter's face
 
When Mitch Hunter walked down the street, children hid behind their mothers because they were scared of what they saw.

On becoming a father himself, he decided to have a face transplant, because he didn’t want his own son to be afraid of him.

Mr Hunter, a former soldier whose face was destroyed saving a woman’s life, can now smile again, feel the breeze on his face and warmth of his wife’s kiss.

And he can walk down the street without children shouting, staring and hiding in fear.

Mr Hunter, 30, of Indianapolis, is one of the first people in the world to be given a whole new face.

His face was destroyed when, as a young solider, he heroically saved the life of a woman 10 years ago.

When the car he was in smashed into a 10,000 volt electrical pylon, he pushed the woman, who was also in the crash, out of harm’s way, and thousands of volts of electricity surged through his body, severely burning his face.

He then went through at least 20 corrective operations, with skin taken from his thighs and elsewhere in his body used to patch him up, but the results were far from satisfactory.

The disfigurement scared children and fascinated adults, who stared at him when he ventured outside.

He had no normal sensation in his face and had lost the bulk of his lips and so his girlfriend Katarina had never kissed him on the lips.

When he and Katarina had a son, he decided it was finally time to get a new face.

He said: ‘I’ve had kids hide and run behind their moms because they were so scared when they saw me.

'That was hard to cope with because my friends started having kids, then my brother had a kid.

'Then I had Clayton and I didn’t want kids to be afraid of me any more.’

On Sunday, BBC2 documentary Frontline Medicine will tell the story of the 14 hour operation, in which he was given an entire new face, including eyelids, lips, muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation.

Painstaking micro-vascular surgery was needed to attach the two main arteries to the new face, allowing Mr Hunter’s heart to start supplying it with blood.

Five months after the U.S. military-funded operation at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and Mr Hunter is starting to see some of his old features starting to come through as the swelling subsides.

His speech is rapidly improving and he is able to do simple things like smile, purse his lips and scrunch his eyes. He can feel his son touch his face and can also do something he couldn’t do even before the accident - grow a beard.

He said: ‘This face is really starting to feel more and more like mine every day and the sensation that I’ve gained back is just extraordinary.

'I can feel the breeze on my face now. I can feel heat. It’s just amazing how much sensation I’ve gained back in such a short time.’

Peter Butler, who hopes to carry out Britain’s first face transplant at London’s Royal Free Hospital, believes the technique could one day benefit millions around the world.

He said: ‘There are a quarter of a million people in the UK with severe facial disfigurement for whom reconstructive surgery has not worked.

'They get stared at and they don’t blend into a crowd. That’s what most of them want, just to be normal.’
 
* Mitch’s story is told in Frontline Medicine on BBC2 at 9pm on Sunday.
 
SOURCE: Daily Mail
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