WASHINGTON, D.C. It was a very proud moment for Maria Siemionow, MD, PhD, DSc, here at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland on April 17, 2009. Her home country of Poland, represented by Ambassador Robert Kupiecki, had just awarded her the prestigious Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, in recognition of her outstanding medical accomplishments.
Doctor Maria Siemionow with medal
Dr. Siemionow was the lead surgeon of a medical team that recently completed the first near-total face transplantation in America at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio on December 10, 2008. The patient, in a 22-hours operation, had 80% of her face replaced with bone, muscles, nerves, skin and blood vessels from a recently deceased woman. This completeness of transfer was medically necessary so that the new face will actually function as such and not just be a mask of sorts.
Connie Culp's face had been almost completely erased and bone-shattered by a shotgun blast fired by her husband in 2004. She survived, but the results were devastating. To breathe, the 46-years old Ohio woman needed a tube inserted into her windpipe. Only her upper eyelids, forehead, lower lip and chin remained. One eye was saved but it required a corneal transplant. She also lost her senses of smell and taste, but regained them after the daunting but highly successful operation.
The challenging and avant-garde surgical technique did not occur in a vacuum. It was a highly problematic situation from the very start, which necessitated several years of laboratory research and experimentation, including cadaver work. It was necessary to establish a host of revolutionary medical procedures and protocols, all of which needed to be fully vetted and approved of by various medical and professional boards. All of this, and the amazing operation itself, was presented and made patently clear during Dr. Siemionow's fascinating lecture, with revealing slides, at the embassy event.
Professor Siemionow is a world renowned scientist and microsurgeon. She earned her medical degree from Poland's Poznan Medical Academy in 1974, and then earned a PhD in microsurgery in 1985. She specializes in microsurgery, hand surgery, peripheral nerve surgery, transplantation, and microcirculation research. Siemionow presently is a Professor of Surgery, Director of Plastic Surgery Research, and Head of Microsurgery Training at the Cleveland Clinic. She also serves as a Professor of Surgery at the Karol Marcinkowski University of Medical Sciences in Poznan. Her entire and most impressive curriculum vitae is much too lengthy to be recounted here.
The peoples of Poland and America have much to thank Marie Siemionow for. Their now-shared-daughter has tirelessly devoted her entire professional life to the practice of medicine with the altruistic goal of healing others, and so that all her traumatized and severely injured patients can regain the ability to lead normal and productive lives once again.
Let it be said that our intrinsic gratitude and appreciation for Marie Siemionow shines just as brightly - and possibly even more so - than the grand medal with which she was decorated.
Text and Photographs by Richard P. Poremski, contact him at
The article was published originally in Polish-AmericanJournal, May 8, 2009
Check also a funny and interesting but also truthful book about Poles:
The Xenophobe's Guide to the Poles, by Ewa Lipniacka (Author)