Man shows first US full face transplant

2011-05-09 20:02
Face transplant recipient, Dallas Wiens, at a press conference in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The Texas cherry picker burned his face off after his head touched an electrical wire. (Adam Hunger, AFP)

Face transplant recipient, Dallas Wiens, at a press conference in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. The Texas cherry picker burned his face off after his head touched an electrical wire. (Adam Hunger, AFP) (Adam Hunger)

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Boston - A Texas cherry picker who burned his face off after his head touched an electrical wire showed off his new face on Monday as doctors presented the first US full face transplant recipient.

Wearing black sunglasses and a dark goatee beard, Dallas Wiens, 26, appeared at a press conference alongside doctors who performed the operation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the northeastern city of Boston.

"To me the face feels natural, as it if has become my own," said Wiens, acknowledging that he still feels numb in some places and needs to continue rehabilitation work to rebuild nerve function.

"I can never express what has been done, what I have been given," he added, thanking the donor family who wished to remain anonymous.

Wiens was injured in November 2008 when his head touched a high voltage electrical wire, causing dramatic facial deformities and burning off his nose and lips.

Plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahac led the team of physicians, nurses and anaesthesiologists for more than 15 hours to replace Wiens's nose, lips, facial skin, nerves and muscles.

The operation was done in March by a 30-strong team at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which said it was "the first full face transplant" performed in the country.

"He was quite literally a man without a face," said Pomahac.

First in 2005

The world's first full face transplant took place in Spain, and was unveiled in July 2010 by doctors at Vall d'Hebron hospital in Barcelona.

The 31-year-old recipient, identified only as Oscar, reportedly suffered injuries in a shooting accident and spoke at a televised news conference with considerable difficulty. He could not close his mouth and his face appeared swollen.

The first successful partial face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on Isabelle Dinoire, a 38-year-old woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Since then face transplants have been carried out in China, the United States and Spain, which carried out its first such operation in August 2009.

Wiens, who lost his eyesight in the accident, also spoke with some difficulty, but said he has already begun to regain his sense of smell.

"The ability to breathe through my nose normally, that in itself was a major gift," he said.

Now he is considering university education and is looking forward to leading a more normal life with his young daughter, who was enamoured by his new look.

"She actually said 'Daddy, you're so handsome,'" he said.

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