US’s first full face transplant

2011-05-10 08:37

Boston – A young father who was terribly disfigured in an electrical accident showed off his new look alongside doctors who performed the US’s first full face transplant.

Visibly moved as he described how his young daughter called him “handsome” and how the first whiff of hospital food was so tantalizing, 26-year-old Dallas Wiens said yesterday there were no words to thank the anonymous donor and his family.

“I can never express what has been done, what I have been given,” said Wiens at a press conference with doctors who performed the operation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The world’s first complete face transplant was unveiled last year by doctors in Spain, a European feat that followed the first partial face transplant in 2005, carried out on a French woman who had been mauled by a dog.

The accident

Wiens, who lives in Texas, burned his face off in November 2008 after the left side of his head touched an electrical wire while he was working up high in a cherry picker.

The high voltage electrical wire destroyed his nose and lips and blinded him.

Wiens lost his left eye in the accident and has no light perception remaining in his right eye.

The hospital said Wiens was not likely to resemble the donor.

“The underlying facial bones and muscle of the recipient will change the shape of the facial tissue graft from the donor and will largely determine its shape and final appearance,” it said in a statement.

At the press conference, Wiens wore black sunglasses and a dark goatee beard, and appeared swollen on one side of his face. “To me the face feels natural. It feels as if it 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.

Man without a face
Plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahac led the team of physicians, nurses and anaesthetists who worked for more than 15 hours to replace Wiens’s nose, lips, facial skin, nerves and muscles.

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

The operation was done in March by a 30-strong team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which hailed the first full face transplant performed in the US as a sign of medical progress.

“In plastic surgery this represents, at least in my mind, a new frontier of reconstructive surgery, of what is possible now,” said one of his doctors, Jeffrey Janis of Parkland Hospital.

“This really opens up an immense amount of doors, and represents a lot of hope where maybe before there was none.”

Elof Eriksson, chief of plastic surgery at Brigham and Women’s hospital, said Wiens has been through the first three steps – the initial workup, the surgery and the post-operation healing.

“Dallas has successfully gone through the first three stages, but still has to regain nerve and muscle function,” said Eriksson.

Two years ago, doctors at the same hospital performed a partial face transplant on a patient named Jim Maki who was making progress, Eriksson said.

 “He has regained almost normal sensation in the skin of the transplanted part and appears to have normal function of the muscle in his lips as well as other muscles of facial expression,” Eriksson said.

First full transplant
The world’s first complete face transplant took place in Spain.

Doctors at Vall d’Hebron hospital in Barcelona showed off their work to the public in July 2010.

The 31-year-old recipient, identified as Oscar, was injured 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 about a dozen face transplant operations have been carried out in China, the US and Spain.

Smell of lasagna
Wiens also spoke to reporters with some difficulty, but said he has already begun to regain his sense of smell.

“The first thing I was able to smell was hospital lasagna. You wouldn’t imagine it, but it smelled delicious,” he said.

“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 delighted by his new look.

“She actually said ‘Daddy, you’re so handsome’.” 

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