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Destination Spotlight

Barcelona-Avant-Garde of Culture Art and Medicine

Destination Spotlight

Featuring a lyrical backdrop of rustic-modern European architecture, the melodic sounds of the Spanish guitar, and 2010 World Cup Soccer Champions, the Catalan capital of Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea, possesses a rich heritage and ambiance. Home of the world’s first full face transplant, technological advancement and innovative research is a resounding theme within healthcare in Barcelona.

Throughout this picturesque city, one can’t help but to appreciate “the face of Barcelona Architecture,” compliments of world-famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. Boasting one of the most unique and distinctive architectural styles in modern history, Gaudí’s work is greatly influenced by forms of nature, which is evident in the use of curved construction stones, twisted iron sculptures, colorful tiles arranged in mosaic patterns and organic-like forms, indulging locals and tourists alike with a breathtaking visual experience. His designs were quite different from those of his contemporaries and years beyond his time.

Gaudí’s greatest gifts to Barcelona include Park Güell, a mystical park with astonishing buildings, sculptures, and tile work. Located in the heart of Park Güell is Gaudí’s old home which is now open to the public as a museum. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and quite possibly the number one, most visited attraction in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia Church, is a giant Roman Catholic Church, featuring a spectacular façade facing the rising sun to the northeast dedicated to the birth of Jesus Christ. Its three entrances symbolize the three virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. The most powerful, the Nativity Façade is dedicated to his birth and even depicts a cypress tree which symbolizes the tree of life. The Glory façade is dedicated to his glory period. The Passion façade is symbolic of his suffering. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint; Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot. Two chameleons can be found at either side of the façade, and are symbolic of change.

Among other famous landmarks throughout the city is Port Olímpic, a stylish marina on the Mediterranean coastline, best known for hosting the sailing events for the Olympic Games of 1992. Located between the beaches of Icaria and Barceloneta, Port Olímpic welcomes its visitors with a gigantic bronze whale sculpture located between twin skyscrapers of the Hotel Arts Barcelona and the Mapfre Tower. This lively area offers bars, restaurants and clubs. La Rambla is a quarter of a mile, tree-lined pedestrian mall between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, it connects Plaça Catalunya in the centre with the Christopher Columbus monument at Port Vell. The name “rambla” refers to an intermittent water flow in both Catalan and Spanish, and is derived from the Arabic “ramla” which means “sandy riverbed”.


Like with artisans in arts and architecture, the realm of Facial Plastic Surgery requires an undoubting level of artistic skill from surgeons, primarily because their masterpieces are the first thing the world sees of their patients. Though other face transplants had occurred prior to this surgery, the surgery in Barcelona was the first to involve the entire face, including the nose, lips, jaw, teeth, muscle tissue, skin and cheek bones, thereby making Barcelona home of the first full face transplant.

The surgery, which was the culmination of two years of planning, took 24 hours and a team of 30 surgeons, led by Dr. Joan Pere Barrett, Head of the Plastic Surgery Department at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Catalonia on March 20, 2010.

In the first part of the operation, the soft parts of the face, including veins and arteries, were extracted before firmer tissue was removed. The young man’s arteries and veins were then isolated and the donor’s face checked to ensure there was a complete flow of blood. The final part of the surgery involved transplanting bones and connecting nerves to the new face. The patient, Oscar, a Spanish farmer who accidentally blew most of his face off, including his nose and jaw, with a gun in 2005, leaving him unable to breathe, swallow or speak properly.

Nine earlier surgical attempts to rebuild his face had failed. Following the success of the surgery, Dr. Joan Pere Barret, said, “The patient has scars on his forehead and his neck but they will become invisible in the future. He has seen himself when he told us he wanted to and psychologists said he was ready. It was a week after the operation and he reacted well, saying he was satisfied with the result.”
Although the man has been given someone else’s face, he will not take on the looks of the donor, who died in a road crash. Instead, his new face will be a hybrid, identical to neither his old one nor the donor’s but reminiscent of both.

Facial transplants are highly controversial, as they have many psychological risks, much more so than regular organ transplants. Patients have to undergo a number of psychological evaluations, and surgeries must be approved by an ethics committee.


A benchmark center in many of its specialties, USP Dexeus was one of the first private university centers in Spain. Featuring 126 rooms, 13 VIP Suites and13 operating rooms, Instituto Universitario USP Dexeus is a private academic hospital offering services and surgical care in specialties including Reproductive Medicine, Cardiology, Neurology, Endocrinology, Nephrology, Otolaryngology and Oncology. It has a strong team of more than 400 doctors and incorporates the latest technological advances and research, making it one of the top medical centers in its region.

“The MTA’s regional office in Barcelona will assist in the better development and delivery of educational programs in all of Western Europe”, said Renée-Marie Stephano, President of Medical Tourism Association and Editor-in-Chief of Medical Tourism Magazine.

Instituto Universitario USP Dexeus is very conveniently located in the city, in the center of the so-called “triangle of knowledge”, where the financial, university and research sectors join together, reinforcing its vocational training, also known as the “Hospital of Knowledge”.


Patients have been traveling to Barcelona for treatment for decades, and as a leader in healthcare in its region, this city and think tanks within its healthcare system and tourism authorities have come together and embarked on a mission to put this splendid city on the map of the medical tourism industry. The MTA certainly applauds their efforts and we look forward to working closely with our members Catalunya Turisme and in providing a world-class platform to educate the industry globally on the vast opportunities at hand.


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