ÖZLENEN ÖZKAN
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ÖZLENEN ÖZKAN

A SIGNATURE IN THE WORLD OF MEDICINE

Interviewer: Sibel Atasoy
Date: September 2015
Date: Antalya

Gallery

Interview


Can we get to know you a little better?
My name is Dr. Özlenen Özkan. I’m a mother of two children and work at Akdeniz University Faculty of Medicine, Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

How did you decide to attend medical school?
Since my childhood I wanted to be a surgeon. But I wanted to do something different, so I chose plastic surgery. I decided on plastic surgery as my specialty in my senior year.

You took part in the first face transplant operation in Turkey. Can you describe this process?
First you need to have an aim in order to be successful. Being a part of Ömer Özkan’s team was a great chance for me. I learned a lot from him. We put forward this objective. In fact, it was an ongoing process since 2004. You need to convince people about your aims and dreams and prove yourself. This took a long time to achieve, but the end result was very positive for our country.

At this point can you tell us about your marriage with Dr. Ömer Özkan?
We were working together and that's how we met. Afterwards we got married and now we have two daughters. Plus, there is the upside of working together and being a married couple. We never participate in the same surgeries. From this aspect our relationship remains viable. I learned so much from him. He taught me a lot not only as my husband, but also as my teacher. He brings a very unique perspective to surgery. I consider myself lucky.

Can you tell us about the process of Turkey's first arm transplant?
It was a very long process. First, we needed to create the infrastructure. Then you needed to get the necessary permits and that was the hardest part. It was very difficult to get authorisation for an operation, which was then at that time still an experimental procedure. We had many patients later on thanks to these experiences. There were many patients who had lost their arms. Seeing them made us contemplate how we could help them. Then began the permitting process. After we obtained our permits we met up with Cihan and a donor was also found. Within 24 hours, the necessary authorisation was granted and the surgery went ahead. It was a very challenging and exciting surgery for us and there were many unknowns. The patient has to be mentally ready for these operations. Perhaps this is the most important process following the surgery. Cihan was a very suitable candidate in this regard.

What has been the aftermath when these face transplant operations began?
There are two groups in transplant operations: The donor and the recipient. I work with the recipient team and Ömer with the donating team. I take part in the process of preparing the patient. You live through the excitement of the recipient patient, informing them and making sure that they completely understand the whole procedure. Actually this is an important process. Timing is of utmost importance in these surgeries. The feelings we went through during our first face transplant operation was indescribable. There was great excitement. These face transplant surgeries have an ethical, cosmetic and sociological aspect. In this sense it’s a complicated procedure. If all goes well, both sides will become very happy.

You become like a family member to the transplant patients and continuously monitor them, don’t you?
Yes, this surgery isn’t commonly performed in Turkey and for this reason patients come to us wherever we may be. This will probably continue for a very long time.

What can you tell us about the uterus transplant operations?
This was an operation that excited me a lot. Compared to other operations the feeling it left in me was different as a woman. It has a different mystique. Reproduction in humans is already an instinctive thing. Those women who aren’t biologically able to give birth seek other means of help and often suffer great disappointments. I didn’t know that there were so many women who had this condition. Honestly I didn’t think that so many candidates would come forward for the operation. There were numerous candidates from all over the world. We gave them hope. Among the patients we had two pregnancies. There were heartbeats in both pregnancies, which was very promising. After us the Swedish team was also successful. So we proved that we didn’t actually chase a dream. We demonstrated that this is a reality. We will continue on our path. Without hope, we would have never commenced with this project. Hopefully we'll give the good news of another pregnancy again within a short time.

You have a busy professional life and have two children on the other hand.
Maybe this situation was more difficult for the children. My mother helped me a lot. A mother’s place can never be filled. It’s never certain when our surgeries will take place. Or when cadavers will be brought and made ready. Once when we were on holiday in Ankara we had to go into surgery. My daughter Zeynep was with us and I didn’t leave her. We went to the donor with her.

What are your plans for the future?
Composite tissue transplant is still a new area and which I love. We want to do a project on this subject. There are many expectant patients and I clearly want to continue in this field. Because I love my work it’s very enjoyable. I also want to raise better kids who will contribute to their country and nation. I hope I will be successful and that they will make me very proud.

You received many offers from other hospitals but you declined them.
We really love Antalya and Akdeniz University. Compared to Istanbul living here is convenient and Antalya is a beautiful city.  That’s why we couldn’t leave Antalya. Though we have some thoughts I’m happy living here since life here is more compact and safer. As a family we love to be here.

What do you think about being a woman in Antalya?
Living in Antalya is easier compared to other places. I’m quite content to live in Antalya. I'm happy being a woman in Antalya. From the perspective of social life there is still progress to be made.

What would you like to say about the Antalya Women Museum?
It’s a very meaningful project, because women are unsung heroes. Women fulfil many roles. They really do carry a heavy burden You need to be good at your job, you have to be a good mother at home, you have to be a good wife. These are all things that require additional energy and time. You need to dedicate yourself. If you enjoy doing these there won’t be any mix-up. But sometimes it can be tiresome.

Do you have a message for women?
They should work hard and pursue their dreams. And while doing this they shouldn’t compromise their femininity.
 
ÖZLENEN ÖZKAN