Complete Face Transplant Gives Texas Man New Lease on Life

Transplant considered most complete in the U.S. to date.

ByKATIE MOISSE, ABC News Medical Unit
March 21, 2011, 9:51 AM

March 21, 2011— -- A 25-year-old man from Fort Worth, Texas, has received the most complete face transplant in the United States to date.

Dallas Wiens, a construction worker, suffered severe burns to his head two and a half years ago when the boom lift he was operating drifted into a nearby power line. The nearly fatal accident left him in a coma for three months.

After 22 surgeries, Wiens was left with a face void of features, except for a lipless mouth and a goatee. Even his eye sockets were smoothed over with skin taken from other parts of his body.

Below is a picture of Wiens before his surgery. Viewer discretion is advised.

But last week, a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists at Brigham and Woman's Hospital in Boston worked for more than 15 hours to give Wiens a new face -- complete with skin and the muscles and nerves needed to animate it.

"Dallas is doing great, meeting all milestones," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, team leader and director of the Brigham and Woman's Hospital Burn Center.

Wiens is the second person to have a face transplant at Brigham and Woman's Hospital. James Maki received a partial transplant in 2005, also led by Pomahac, after accidentally falling face first onto an electrified subway rail.

Pomahac said light dressings currently cover the incision lines on Wiens's new face and, once it has healed, his appearance will be "somewhere in the middle" between his own and that of the donor.

But Wiens said he didn't have the procedure because of how he might look after. Rather, he did it so he might feel a kiss from his 3-year-old daughter, Scarlett.

"I can't feel her kisses, and I can't truly kiss her back," he told ABC News affiliate WFAA before the procedure. "I just have to go 'click' and click my tongue to simulate a kiss."

Pomahac said Wiens may regain up to 90 percent of the sensation in his forehead, right cheek and lips.

But on top of looks and the ability to feel, the face is also critical for breathing, speaking, eating and interacting socially.

"The face is very complex organ from that standpoint and we're trying to accommodate all of those," Pomahac said.

Wiens's eyes were destroyed by the accident. But he hasn't given up on seeing again either.

"Fifteen years ago a face transplant was science fiction. What's going to happen in the next 15 years? I've got a lot of life left," he told WFAA before the procedure.

Face Transplant Gives Young Dad New Hope

Since the procedure, the date of which will not be released to protect the identity of the donor, Wiens has spoken to his family by phone and walked around his hospital room.

At a press conference, Del Peterson, Wiens's grandfather, described the transplant as "a miracle" and talked about how Wiens had to choose between getting bitter and getting better.

"He chose to get better," Peterson said.

On behalf of Wiens and his daughter Scarlett, Peterson extended "sincere and heartfelt thanks" to the donor and his family who gave "the most precious gift."

Face donation requires consent from the donor's family in addition to registration by the donor.

Peterson also thanked the first responders who arrived on the scene a few minutes after the accident, buying precious time in the fight for Wiens's life, emergency personnel at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where Wiens was airlifted, the New England Organ Bank staff and Pomahac and the transplant team.

Wiens's transplant, which involved a whole face and the bony tissue of the nose, is the most complete face transplant in the U.S. to date, according to Brigham and Woman's Hospital.

Spanish doctors said they performed the world's first "full" face transplant last April, one involving the nose, lips, palate, teeth, cheekbones and jaw.

The Department of Defense contributed $3.4 million to Brigham and Woman's Hospital and covered Wiens's procedure. Wiens joined the Army but had to take a medical discharge because of knee problems, according to WFAA.

Wiens told WFAA that even if the surgery didn't work out, he'd be proud to know lessons learned would help wounded soldiers in the future.

Pomahac said two people are currently waiting for face transplants, including Charla Nash -- the women who lost her face and hands after being attacked by her friend's chimp.