Infographics on Skin Disease
Li Guoxing, 32, died in July at his rural home in rugged southwestern China after forsaking immune-system drugs in favor of herbal medicine, his surgeon Guo Shuzhong told AFP.
"His death was not caused by the surgery. Our operation was a success. But we cannot rule out a connection with the immune system drugs," said Guo, a surgeon with Xijing Hospital in the northern city of Xian who operated on Li in April 2006.
Qiao Guangliang, chief of Li's village in mountainous Yunnan province, also confirmed the death to AFP.
Both men said the exact cause of death was unknown as no autopsy was performed.
Li's death had been rumoured on Chinese blogs but has received scant attention in the mainstream press.
US doctors in Cleveland said last week they conducted the world's first near-total facial transplant on a disfigured woman.
It was just the fourth known facial transplant.
Doctors in France had performed the first partial transplant in 2005 on a 38-year-old woman disfigured in a dog attack.
The next year, Li, a farmer, underwent an apparently successful operation to replace about half his face after it was ripped off by a wild bear.
A 29-year-old French man then underwent surgery in 2007 for a facial tumor.
Guo said Li defied orders to remain in hospital and went home in late 2007.
Li soon stopped taking prescribed drugs in favour of a local herbal medicine, which Guo said may have caused liver damage.
Guo said the remoteness of Li's home had meant he could not make it to hospital for regular check-ups.
"After his death, I went to Yunnan and suggested an autopsy but his relatives refused" because Li had already been buried, Guo said.
AFP was not immediately able to reach Li's family members.
The US woman, whose identity has been kept secret, has shown no signs of rejecting her transplant, doctors said.
However, facial transplants remain controversial because of the risks and because they are driven by cosmetic, rather than life-saving concerns.