A Texas construction worker horribly disfigured in a power line accident has undergone the nation's first full face transplant in hopes of smiling again and feeling kisses from his 3-year-old daughter.
Dallas Wiens, 25, received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from an unidentified dead person in an operation paid for by the U.S. military, which wants to use what is learned to help soldiers with severe facial wounds.
Wiens will not resemble "either what he used to be or the donor," but something in between, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, chief plastic surgeon. "The tissues are really molded on a new person."
Pomahac led a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital during the 15-hour operation last week. Wiens was listed in good condition at the hospital Monday. He did not appear at a news conference with the surgeon.
The Fort Worth man's features were all but burned away, and he was left blind after hitting a power line while painting a church in November 2008. The transplant was not able to restore his sight, and some nerves were so badly damaged from his injury that he will probably have only partial sensation on his left cheek and left forehead, the surgeon said.
"When I saw Dallas for the first time, I was worried that there may not be much we could do," Pomahac said.
Wiens has been able to talk to his family on the phone, said his grandfather, Del Peterson, who attended the news conference Monday.
After the accident, Wiens said that "he could choose to get bitter or he could choose to get better. His choice was to get better. Thank God, today he's better," Peterson said.
In an Associated Press report and a YouTube video last fall, Wiens spoke poignantly about why he wanted a transplant and how he wanted to smile again and feel kisses from his daughter, Scarlette, who turns 4 next month. Face transplants give horribly disfigured people hope of an option other than "looking in the mirror and hating what they see," he said.
He told the AP that his daughter and his faith have kept him motivated.
"She says, 'Daddy has a boo-boo, but God and the doctors are making Daddy's boo-boo all better,' " Wiens said. "She doesn't care, and she never has since day one that I was disfigured."
The surgery was paid for by the Defense Department, which gave the hospital a $3.4 million research grant for five transplants.
The new federal health care law also helped Wiens by allowing him to get insurance coverage under his father's plan for the expensive drugs he will have to take for the rest of his life to prevent rejection of his new face. He will be covered until he turns 26 in May. He expects to be eligible soon under Medicare, which insures the disabled as well as those 65 and older.
About a dozen face transplants have been done worldwide, in the United States, France, Spain and China.
Pomahac said one of the two people on the waiting list in Boston for a face transplant is Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who was mauled and blinded by a friend's 200-pound chimpanzee. The animal ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids. She is also waiting for a hands transplant.