Destination Spotlight

Spain: The Heart of Transplants

Destination Spotlight

Valencia, the third largest city in Spain has reinvented itself as an up and coming destination for tourism and lately, limb transplants.


Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea this city brings in visitors from all over the world to experience the historic beauty. While in Valencia tourists can visit the Serranos Towers which is considered to be the largest Gothic city gateway in all of Europe, the towers were constructed at the end of the 14th century and were used as prison cells, or they can walk around the Plaza de la Virgen which sits on the site that once was the forum of Roman Valencia.

These are some activities that those who didn’t travel to Spain for a transplant might want to partake in. While tourism is now booming, the transplant industry has been well established for years and even more so lately.

Spain has become a world leader in organ donation since it set up a network of transplant coordinators in 1989 at all hospitals to closely monitor emergency wards and identify potential donors within intensive care units, this coordination network is on a national, regional and hospital level.

Transplant coordinating teams were founded and put in charge of all steps of transplant procurement including; locating donors to the organ grafting or tissue banking. This program has proven to be successful; waiting times and lists in Spain have decreased.

For example, heart transplant waiting lists fell from 116 patients in 2004 to 85 patients in 2005.1 Dr. Rafael Matesanz, MD, director of the Organización Nacional de Trasplantes in Spain said, “Spain is the only country with a sustained increase of organ donation during the last 17 years.” There has been a rise from 550 to 1546 annual donors, for all organs.2


Valencia has also been home to some of the first body part transplants in Spain and in the world. Dr.Pedro Cavadas and his team at La Fe Hospital have been responsible for performing Spain’s first partial face transplant, double hand transplant and now the world’s first double leg transplant.

Dr. Cavadas originally from Valencia, received his Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Valencia and completed his residency with La Fe Hospital in 1995, where he specialized in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Dr. Cavadas decided to do more with his talent; after spending periods of time in Kenya he founded the Pedro Cavadas Foundation, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to reconstructive surgery in Africa.3


Dr. Cavadas performed Spain’s first bilateral hand transplant which was also the first woman in the world to have had this performed and only the seventh person worldwide to have this procedure. In December 2006, the 47 year old patient who lost both her hands 28 years ago in a chemistry experiment underwent the 10 hour reconstructive surgery at La Fe Hospital in Valencia. The majority of hand transplants worldwide have been successful except in the cases where patients stop taking proper medications according to the doctor’s orders.4

Just a few short years later in August 2009, Dr. Cavadas successfully performed the first partial face transplant in Spain and the eighth ever performed worldwide it was also the first transplant to include both tongue and jaw. The surgery took more than 30 people to facilitate, but after 15 hours the 43 year old man received his new face.5

One year later in March 2010, Dr. Joan Pere Barrett from the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Catalonia performed a full face transplant that included the entire face, including the nose, lips, jaw, teeth, muscle tissue, skin and cheek bones, thereby making Barcelona home of the first full facial transplant.

After successfully completing various types of transplants Dr. Cavadas, along with his team of 50 at La Fe Hospital pioneered the world’s first double leg transplant in July 2011. Generally, prosthetic legs are the best option for leg amputees, but in this case the amputation was very high on the thigh, leaving too little tissue to attach a prosthetic limb.6

Cavadas said in an article in the Huffington Post that the key to the long period of rehabilitation will be how the patient’s nerves regenerate and join up with structures like muscles, joints and skin. He expects that if everything goes well the patient will be walking with crutches in six or seven months.7

With all these advancements, Spain is emerging as an international front runner in the medical industry. Its historic beauty might have been the country’s initial intrigue but its transplant innovations are giving Spain the esteem it deserves.



About the Author

Olivia Goodwin serves as Communica¬tions Coordinator and Assistant Editor for Medical Tourism As-sociation and Magazine. She travels around networking and developing ideas for the Magazine and the Association. Olivia holds a degree in Multimedia Journalism from Florida Atlantic University. She may be reached at

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