Imagine going from having no face to having someone else's face.

Face transplantation is the process of removing part or all of a donor's face and attaching it onto a patient who has suffered devastating facial injury. With its just-launched face transplantation program, UCLA Medical Center will become the first hospital in the western U.S., and one of only a handful in the nation, to offer the procedure.

"The face is the most exposed body part. It's what makes us human. So you can only imagine what it's like to not have a face," Dr. Kodi Azari, chief of reconstructive transplantation at UCLA's school of medicine, told The Huffington Post. The program will help respond to as many as 200 veterans in need of face transplants.

The program has begun to set up a database of people seeking a new face, with photos and descriptions. Qualifying patients will then be placed on a waiting list until a donor is found with matching blood type, gender, age, ethnicity, skin tone, hair color and other criteria.

Once a match is made, surgeons will remove the damaged part of the patient's face and replace it with the donated face. Surgeons will work for more than 20 hours joining skin, fat, muscles, tendons and ligaments, and securing bones with screws and other hardware. The most painstaking part of the procedure is stitching the nerves and blood vessels — too small to be seen by the naked eye, according to program website.

The result will leave the transplant patient looking significantly different than before their injury. "The patient will look like a hybrid between himself and the donor," said Azari, the program's principal investigator.

The team hopes to conduct its first transplant by the end of the year.

Facial reconstruction with donated facial tissue, rather than tissue from another part of the patient's body, results in significantly improved appearance and function. Patients who cannot smile and have difficulty breathing, speaking and eating should regain all of those functions after a transplant, Azari said.

The UCLA program includes an extensive process to make sure donors and their loved ones are treated with dignity. The program will create a mask of each donor's face to be put on the donor after the face is removed. "It's like Hollywood. We have a whole facial prosthetics team who will create these nearly-identical masks, in the event that the family wants an open casket," Azari said.

The face transplant program is currently seeking patients who want to participate in the surgery and five years of follow-up. The clinical trial is open to military veterans as well as to civilian victims of facial gunshot wounds, burns or other injuries. The program partners with UCLA's renowned Operation Mend, which has offered facial and hand reconstructive surgery to veterans since 2007.

The program also offers psychiatric support. "Many patients eligible for a face transplant experience social isolation and depression," Dr. Reza Jarrahy, surgical co-director of the new program, told HuffPost. Psychiatric evaluations are done on candidates before they qualify and psychiatric support for recipients is provided throughout the process. "Understanding that a person's identity and sense of self are closely tied to their facial appearance, the team will also support the patient's emotional adjustment to their new face after the surgery," the program website says.

The "gorilla in the room," Azari said, is the anti-rejection medications transplant patients will have to take for life.

"Is it ethical to put somebody on anti-rejection drugs for life for a procedure that is not life-saving?" Azari asked. His team of more than 50 physicians, including ethics specialists, believes it is. "Now the holy grail is to modulate the immune system, to fool it somehow, so we don't have to give it as much medicine," he added.

The program will cover the entire cost of care, at no expense to the patient. Azari, who also performs hand transplants, said the cost of a face transplant would be about the same, at $600,000 for the first six months of care. Click here to donate to the program.

Only six face transplants have been performed in the U.S., and 19 have been performed worldwide. Click through amazing photos (WARNING: GRAPHIC) of a few face transplants that have been completed across the country :

Photos by Associated Press.

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  • This three-photo combination shows Dallas Wiens, the recipient of the first full face transplant in the United States. On the left, a 2008 Wiens family photo provided by Brigham and Women's Hospital, shows Wiens with his daughter Scarlette prior to an electrical accident that disfigured his face; center, a December 2010 file photo provided by Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, and released by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, shows Wiens prior to receiving a full face transplant during the week of March 14, 2011; and right, shows Wiens as he takes questions from members of the media during a news conference at Brigham And Women's Hospital, in Boston, Monday, May 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Wiens Family, Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas, and Steven Senne)

  • Undated photos provided Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011 by the Nash family and Brigham and Women's Hospital show chimpanzee attack victim Charla Nash before she was attacked by a chimpanzee and a recent photo release by the hospital Thursday Aug. 11, 2011 showing Nash after face transplant surgery, right. Nash was mauled by a chimpanzee in 2009 and received the transplant in May 2011 at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts. Nash, 57, said in a statement she's looking forward to doing things she once took for granted, including being able to smell, eat normally, speak clearly and kiss loved ones. (AP Photo/Brigham and Women's Hospital, Lightchaser Photography)

  • These undated file photos provided Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011 by the Brigham and Women's Hospital show chimpanzee attack victim Charla Nash after the attack, left, and post-face transplant surgery, right. The U.S. government wants to start regulating face and hand transplants just as kidneys, hearts and other organs are now. That means establishing waiting lists, a system to allocate body parts and donor testing to prevent deadly infections. Officials say this is a big step toward expanding access to these radical operations, especially for wounded troops returning home. The new rule is expected to take effect later in 2012 or early 2013. (AP Photo/Brigham and Women's Hospital, Lightchaser Photography, File)

  • 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia, was injured in 1997 in a gun accident. Richard Lee Norris from Hillsville, Virginia, underwent the 36-hour operation last week after living as a recluse for 15 years. Doctor's say he has also regained his sense of smell. Due to the accident, Mr. Norris lost his lips and nose and had limited movement of his mouth. The transplant took place at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Physicians say it is the most extensive face transplant ever carried out, including new teeth, nose, tongue and jaw. The surgery was funded by the US Navy, which hopes the techniques will help casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. Surgeons who carried out the operation said it was part of a series of transplant operations lasting 72 hours, using organs from one donor in five patients, including Mr Norris. (Rex Features via AP Images)

  • 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia, was injured in 1997 in a gun accident. Richard Lee Norris from Hillsville, Virginia, underwent the 36-hour operation last week after living as a recluse for 15 years. Doctor's say he has also regained his sense of smell. Due to the accident, Mr. Norris lost his lips and nose and had limited movement of his mouth. The transplant took place at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Physicians say it is the most extensive face transplant ever carried out, including new teeth, nose, tongue and jaw. The surgery was funded by the US Navy, which hopes the techniques will help casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan. Surgeons who carried out the operation said it was part of a series of transplant operations lasting 72 hours, using organs from one donor in five patients, including Mr Norris. (Rex Features via AP Images)

  • In this Aug. 20, 2008, file photo, Carmen Tarleton is interviewed in her home in Thetford , Vt. The Vermont woman who was burned and disfigured when her ex-husband doused her with industrial lye four years ago has been approved for a face transplant at a Boston hospital.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

  • UCLA's animated graphic video explains how face transplantation is done.