Dallas Wiens: First Full-Face Transplant in the United States
Dallas Wiens made history in 2011 when he became the first person to receive a full face transplant in the United States. Here is his story.
Historic Face Transplant
"Daddy, you're so handsome," the little girl beamed at Dallas Wiens. The words came tumbling out of her mouth when she saw her father for the first time after his operation.
Wiens, 25, made history in March 2011 when he became the first person to receive a full-face transplant in the United States.
Two months later, he appeared at a press conference from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. It was his first public appearance since he received a new face.
Joined by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac and Dr. Elof Eriksson, his plastic surgeons, Wiens appeared before a packed room of news reporters and photographers.
"[My face] feels natural," said the young man from Fort Worth, Texas. "Every step of the way was amazing," he told the reporters as he answered their questions about his miracle transformation.
Here's more on Dallas Wiens and his amazing story as the first American full-face transplant recipient.
A Miracle for Dallas
More than 30 doctors and nurses worked for 15 hours on Dallas Wiens' surgery. Thanks to an anonymous donor, he received a nose, lips, facial skin, muscle and nerves.
While praising Wiens for his courage and strength, Dr. Pomahac called the donor's gift "the most selfless gift one human can give another."
Richard S. Luskin, president of the New England Organ Bank, agreed. "This remarkable, anonymous gift is another example of the life-affirming power of organ and tissue donation," he said.
The donor's family, who requested anonymity, had to approve the face donation. According to Dr. Pomahac, Wiens will not look like his old self or the donor, but "probably somewhere in the middle."
The United States Department of Defense (DOD) paid for the surgery. The Boston hospital received $3.4 million in research funds for five face transplants. The military hopes that the findings from the Wiens surgery and future operations will help war veterans who are suffering from severe facial wounds.
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Beauty from Ashes
A tragic accident in November 2008 was the thing that changed Wiens' life. As he painted a Fort Worth church, his head accidentally touched a high voltage power line. His electrocution caused severe burns and nearly ended his life.
Wiens lost most of his face, and the accident blinded his remaining eye. Dozens of surgeries at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas left him with a smooth, featureless face of grafted skin.
The transplant surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital gave Wiens a new face, but it was unable to restore his vision. He received a pair of acrylic eyes in September 2011. The Southlake Lions Club, a Dallas area civic organization, is raising money to acquire a service dog for Wiens.
The full-face transplant surgery went better than Dr. Pomahac expected, and the results have amazed the medical community. The feeling and function should return to Wiens' face as his body begins to regenerate nerve endings.
Faith, Family, and Fiancee
After his accident, Wiens knew he had a choice: get bitter or get better. He chose the latter and moved on with his life. Wiens credits his desire for the face transplant to a desire to smile again, and to his longing to feel the kisses of his little daughter Scarlette.
His child and his faith are the things that have kept Wiens motivated throughout the ordeal. "Even though I'm in amazing hands here," he said of his surgeons, "I'm also in God's hands."
Wiens, a member of Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth, addressed a conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) in February 2011.
"They say I'm tenacious but we know differently," he remarked. "On the very first line of my medical record it says, 'This young man is a miracle of God.' Even they cannot deny that it was God who saved my life. The doctors that I had, God put their skill to work in the right place and at the right time to keep me alive."
Nearly a dozen people across the globe have received the miracle of a full-face transplant. This diverse and blessed group of people live in the United States, France, Spain and China.
Update: Dallas Wiens and Jamie Nash were married on Saturday, March 30, 2013, in the same church where Wiens had been burned nearly five years earlier. "I am blessed beyond measure that you have chosen me, and I love you with all of my heart," the Dallas Morning News quoted Wiens as telling Nash.
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- Aasen, Eric. "Full-face Transplant Recipient Discusses his Life-changing Surgery." Dallas Morning News. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- Gordon, Scott. (November 29, 2012. "Two Burn Patients, One Love Story." NBCDFW. Retrieved December 3, 2012.
- Pierce, Jerry. (October 22, 2010). "Burn Victim Blazing New Trails." Southern Baptist Texan. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- Pierce, Jerry. (March 22, 2011). "Full Face Transplant Recipient Given Self-Described Miracle." Baptist Press. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- Rusconi, Peg. (March 21, 2011). "Brigham and Women's Performs Nation's First Full Face Transplant." CBS Boston. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- St. James. Janet. (September 26, 2011). "Amazing Changes Continue for Face Transplant Recipient." WFAA-TV / Dallas-Fort Worth. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
© 2011 Annette R. Smith
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