Louisville woman’s fat to be used on twin, in history-making procedure

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Under doctor's orders, Jessie Coleman is eating as much high-fat, high-calorie food as possible. 

She’s building up fat for a medical procedure that's never been done before, but one her twin sister has been waiting years for. 

Jessie and Janna Coleman are identical twins and were mirror images of each other for years. 

"My dad even had to put a marker on my foot to tell us apart," Jessie said. "It was crazy when we were babies."

At age 7, that similarity began to change when Janna developed a vicious form of cancer.

"I was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, and that's a solid tumor of the jaw," Janna explained. "I went to St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis and had full head and neck cancer radiation, chemo and then surgery."

Janna survived, but those treatments affected the ability of her jaw and upper body to grow. She underwent more than 10 jaw reconstruction surgeries that she says did virtually nothing. Then, while working as an oncology nurse at University Hospital, she learned about Dr. Jarrod Little, a reconstructive surgeon with U of L Physicians.

Little is the doctor who operated on a Russian woman whose face was disfigured by cancer treatment. Janna saw the work he had done for other cancer patients, and wondered if he could help her.  

At first, it didn't look good.

"There's not a lot we can do about the boney structure of the face because everything has had such radiation and surgery in the past," Dr. Little said. 

His original plan was to have Janna gain weight. He would then take fat from other parts of her body and put it into her jaw. But Janna couldn't gain weight. 

It wasn't until Janna showed up to an appointment with her twin sister Jessie that Dr. Little got his latest idea. He immediately began thinking, 'I can take the fat from Jessie and put it into Janna.'  But first, Jessie would have to eat up. 

"I've had Dominos, Ben & Jerry's -- I had Arby's yesterday -- it's been great," Jessie said. "I'm generally a healthy person -- vegetables, chicken simple, juice. I haven't had any juice or anything like that, just Coke, french fries." 

The procedure is called fat grafting, which has been in practice for years with the same patient. It's just never been transplanted from one person to another.  

"Fat has a very high concentration of stem cells and when those stem cells are re-introduced to a new area, those stem cells have not decided what they're going to turn into over all. So when you bring those stem cells into a new area, they regenerate the surrounding soft tissue," Little explained.  

Dr. Little says despite the fact it's never been done this way, he's confident it will succeed because Janna and Jessie are virtually a nearly 100 percent genetic match. 

"The goal is to have a more normal-appearing face, one that matches the rest of her body, and get her back to where she wants to be," Little said. 

The procedure is set for Thursday, Nov. 19. Dr. Little says it should last about three hours. 

He also says as many as four of these procedures may be needed.

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