BOSTON — The nation’s first full face transplant recipient said the first thing his young daughter told him when she saw him after the operation was “Daddy, you’re so handsome.”
Dallas Wiens, sporting a goatee and dark sunglasses, joined surgeons Monday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in his first public appearance since the 15-hour procedure in March.
“It feels natural,” said the 25-year-old Texas, man, who received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from an anonymous donor. The operation was paid for by the U.S. military, which hopes to use findings from the procedure to help soldiers with severe facial wounds.
Wiens’ features were all but burned away and he was left blind after hitting a power line while painting a church in November 2008.
On Monday, Wiens appeared before a packed room of reporters and photographers with a new, somewhat swollen face and a new head of hair.
“I adapted to it very quickly,” Wiens told reporters. “As time went on … I was able to smell again and breathe through my nose. Every step of the way was amazing.”
The first thing Wiens’ nose was able to detect after months of having no smell? Hospital lasagna.
“You wouldn’t imagine it, but it smelled delicious,” Wiens said.
Surgeons said 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 the left side of his forehead.
Plastic surgeon Bohdan Pomahac, who performed the operation on Wiens, said the transplant’s results were better than he expected.
“The most fun part is to see the next six to nine months when the function will start to come back and when Dallas will start to feel a light touch on his face,” Pomahac said. “To me, that’s really exciting.”
In an Associated Press story 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 4-year-old daughter, Scarlette. 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. He repeated that Monday. “Even though I’m in amazing hands here,” Wiens said, “I’m also in God’s hands.”
The surgery was paid for by the Department of Defense, which gave the hospital a $3.4 million research grant for five transplants.
About a dozen face transplants have been done worldwide, in the U.S., France, Spain and China.