One of the four people known to have received a partial face transplant has died, according to published reports.
Li Guoxing, 32, died in July at his home in southwestern China after taking herbal medicines instead of immune-suppressing drugs typically used to prevent recipients from rejecting donated tissue, his surgeon, Guo Shuzhong, told Agence-France Presse over the weekend. Li's death had been rumored for months on Chinese blogs, AFP notes.
"His death was not caused by the surgery. Our operation was a success," Guo told AFP. "But we cannot rule out a connection with the immune system drugs."
He added that herbal medicines Li was taking may have caused liver damage. Guo didn't specify which herbs Li was using but said doctors had prescribed him immune-suppressing meds.
About half of Li's face was replaced in 2006 after it was mauled by a bear while he was out hunting. Li was only the second person known to have undergone the risky, experimental procedure at the time, during which skin and other facial tissue is transplanted from a deceased donor onto the injured face of a recipient.
Two partial face transplants have been performed in France. Doctors at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic reported last week that they'd conducted the fourth, on an unidentified woman.
Shanghai-based photographer Ryan Pyle has posted a slide show of Li that he shot last year.
Image of Li Guoxing by STR/AFP/Getty Images