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Worker gets first full face transplant

U.S. donor not revealed; patient blind

- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2011

BOSTON | A Texas construction worker severely disfigured in a power line accident two years ago has received the nation's first full face transplant at a Boston hospital.

More than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital, led by plastic surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, performed the 15-hour operation last week on 25-year-old Dallas Wiens of Fort Worth, Texas. He was listed in good condition at the hospital Monday.

The electrical accident in November 2008 left Mr. Wiens blind and without lips, a nose or eyebrows. In Boston, doctors transplanted an entire new face, including a nose, lips, skin and muscles and nerves that animate the skin and give sensation. The donor's identity was not disclosed nor would the hospital say exactly when the surgery was done for privacy reasons.

Mr. Wiens will not resemble "either what he used to be or the donor," but something in between, said Dr. Pomahac. "The tissues are really molded on a new person."

The transplant was not able to restore Mr. Wiens' sight, and some nerves were so severely damaged from his injury that he likely will have only partial sensation on his left cheek and left forehead, the surgeon said.

Mr. Wiens has been able to talk to his family on the phone, said his grandfather, Del Peterson, who attended the news conference in Boston.

"When I first saw him after the injury, I had no idea what was to follow," Mr. Peterson said. "But he is determined to get well, and to move on with his life, to do something with his life."

He said Mr. Wiens hopes to become an advocate for facial donations, and thanked the donor family, saying, "You will forever remain in our hearts and our prayers and we are grateful for your selflessness."

The surgery was paid for by the Defense Department; the hospital has a $3.4 million grant from the military for transplant research.

Mr. Wiens had no insurance when he was injured; Medicaid covered about two dozen surgeries until his disability payments put him over the income limit. The new health care law allowed him to qualify for coverage under his father's plan for the needed immune-suppressant drugs until he turns 26 in May. Then he will be eligible to receive Medicare, which covers the disabled as well as those over 65.

In an Associated Press story and a YouTube video last fall, Mr. Wiens spoke poignantly about why he wanted a transplant and how he wanted to smile again and feel kisses from his 3-year-old daughter. Face transplants give horribly disfigured people hope of a new option "rather than looking in the mirror and hating what they see," he said.

This was the second face transplant the Boston hospital has performed; the previous one was in April 2009 — the partial replacement of the face of a man who suffered traumatic facial injuries from a freak accident.

One of the two people on the hospital's waiting list for a face transplant is Charla Nash, the Connecticut woman who was mauled and blinded by a friend's 200-pound chimpanzee in 2009. The animal ripped off Ms. Nash's hands, nose, lips and eyelids. She is also waiting for a hands transplant.

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