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Survivor Story: Face Transplant Gives Victim of Severe Burns Another Chance

The Associated Press reported today that a Texas construction worker, whose face was completely disfigured by third-degree burns suffered when he fell into an electrical power line, successfully underwent the nation’s first full face transplant in a Boston hospital last week.

Dallas Wiens, 25, received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from a recently-deceased person. The operation was paid for by the United States armed forces, which is trying to learn more about how to help soldiers who suffer disfiguring facial wounds.

In March 2010, doctors in Spain performed the first full face transplant in the world on a farmer who was accidentally shot in the face, and could not breathe or eat on his own.

Wiens will not resemble what he used to look like, nor will he resemble the unidentified deceased donor. The result will be something in between, said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a plastic surgeon who led a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the 15-hour operation last week. As of today, Wiens was listed in good condition, and has even spoken to family members on the telephone already.

Wiens’ face was completely burned away after he came in contact with a power line while painting a church in November 2008. The transplant could not restore his sight, and some nerves were so damaged that he will probably have only partial sensation on the left side of his face and head.

Wiens’ grandfather said that “he could have chosen to get bitter, or he could have chosen to get better. His choice was to get better, and thank God that today he is.”

In fact, Wiens stayed motivated by the thought of being able to smile again, and to feel kisses on his face from his almost-four-year-old daughter. Wiens added that he also wanted the transplant because it gives hope to extremely disfigured people, rather than having to “look in the mirror and hate what they see,” he said. Wiens also hopes to become an advocate for facial donations, and he publicly thanked the donor family for their selflessness
The healing process is not even close to being over, however. Wiens will have to take medication forever to prevent rejection of the tissue that makes up his new face. He did not have insurance when he was injured, but Medicaid paid for the several surgeries before this one. Medicare will cover him from now on, under its disability rules.

To see several videos of Wiens all throughout his ordeal, right up to the present, click here.