Face Transplant Patient Continues to Improve

Jan. 26, 2006 — -- Doctors had banned flowers from the hospital room of Isabelle Dinoire, the world's first face transplant patient, fearing it would cause her to sneeze and damage her healing face.

But the 38-year-old Frenchwoman is now doing well enough to have them, said Larry Hackett, People magazine's managing editor. A People reporter has conducted the first American interview with Dinoire, over the phone.

The flowers are helping to cheer up Dinoire, who has spent the last two months recovering in the hospital, Hackett said. It has been a difficult time for Dinoire, who described Christmas as "miserable" and is upset that she is not seeing her two teenage daughters enough.

On Nov. 27, Dinoire underwent a 15-hour operation to replace her nose, lips and chin, which were severely damaged when her dog mauled her face in May. In December, her face became red and inflamed, and it looked as if her body was trying to reject the transplant. But immune-suppressing drugs were able to get her through that, and she is doing well now.

As she is recovering, she has picked up an old habit, chain-smoking, Hackett said. She had quit for six months before the attack.

"Her family is bringing her the cigarettes," he said.

Most American doctors would be livid, but the French doctors are allowing it.

"They're not pleased, but the doctors are shrugging their shoulders in the French way," Hackett said.

The circumstances under which Dinoire's dog attacked her remain a mystery, Hackett said. It has been reported in the media that she had taken sleeping pills in a suicide attempt.

"She says she simply fell asleep and her dog attacked her," Hackett said.

There are also mysteries surrounding the face donor, who police said had committed suicide.

"The family of the donor says they are not convinced their daughter committed suicide," Hackett said, "but they also don't suspect foul play. It may just be hard for them to face the truth."

Dinoire's injuries from the dog attack were so severe that eating was difficult. One of Dinoire's joys has been eating again. Sensation is returning in the triangular patch of skin and muscle transplanted to her lower face, and she can eat and drink normally, with no dribbling.

"I love fresh strawberries," Dinoire told People, "but have also eaten omelettes, chocolate cake, and all kinds of other food -- and the odd glass of red wine."

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