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Saving face. (Life/Tech News).

IN FEBRUARY 2000, Mark Tatum suffered a rare infection so severe it literally ate most of his face. The cause? Common fungi of the order Mucarales. A fungus is a single or multi-celled organism that survives by absorbing food through a thin network of threads. Mucoraceae are found in soil and spoiled foods like moldy bread, but pose a health risk to a person only with a damaged immune system, the body's network of disease-fighting cells and organs. Tatum was left vulnerable to the fungi when medications to treat chronic back and shoulder pain severely weakened his immune system.

The fungi spread so rapidly, doctors had no choice but to remove a huge portion of Tatum's face. "We've never seen a situation where a patient has lost both eyes, their nose, and upper jaw," says Dr. Zafrulla Khan at Kentucky's University of Louisville.

Now, thanks to a groundbreaking medical device, Tatum can hold his head high. In January, Khan outfitted Tatum with one of the most extensive prosthestics (replacement body parts) ever created: a new face.

How was it done? The first step was for Dr. Wayne Stadelmann, a reconstructive surgeon at the University of Louisville Medical Center, to remake Tatum's upper jaw and palate (bone and skin that form the roof of the mouth) so Tatum could speak and swallow. The new jaw was assembled from a small part of Tatum's fibula (lower leg bone). Next, an oral surgeon implanted eight titanium metal posts into the newly added bone. Magnets on the posts' ends provide the "glue" that adheres the prosthesis's tough, flexible plastic base to Tatum's head.

To make the prosthesis itself, Khan crafted a clay version of Tatum's nose, eyes, and cheeks that fit on a plastic base. Khan then made a mold of the finished shape and filled it with silicone (resilient type of plastic) to make the fake face. For finishing touches, Khan added eyebrows and false lashes woven from Tatum's hair. "Besides making Mark look as close to normal as possible, the prosthesis also improves his speech by sealing off air emission," says Khan.

While the face can't restore Tatum's sight or lost sense of smell, it's rebuilding his confidence. Says Tatum: "Look at me now. I may not be beautiful, but I'm quite near it."
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Title Annotation:Mark Tatum's prosthetic face
Author:Allen, Laura
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 25, 2002
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