Growing normalcy 'nice' for nation's first full face transplant patient




Posted on August 5, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 5 at 4:48 PM

DALLAS - In March, Dallas Wiens walked into a Boston hospital as the man with a face that was unforgettable.

These days, walking down a Dallas hospital hall, his appearance isn't at all unusual. Most of the time, only the walking cane he uses draws attention.

"And I like it," he said. "It's nice to walk down the street and not get a second glance. It's almost like nobody recognizes that there were any surgeries done."

Wiens was working in a cherry picker lift on November 13, 2008 when he came into contact with a high-voltage power line. He wasn't expected to survive the accident. He did, but his face was badly burned. He lost his eyesight in the accident as well.

Back at home, and living in Fort Worth, Wiens is seen regularly by doctors at UT Southwestern. They are monitoring the nation's first full face transplant for any signs of rejection.

"If there's any skin changes in terms of its color or a rash or even inside of his mouth, if there's any sort of discoloration, then it's something we're concerned about, " said Dr. Jeffrey Janis, Wiens' plastic surgeon, "[They] could be an early sign that his body is potentially rejecting the transferred tissue."

At this point, everything has looked fantastic, and that's how Dallas feels.

On July 12, he underwent another surgery in Boston, which included a brow lift to raise his eyebrows and remove some excess skin. He also had repair work done inside his mouth from damage received in the original electric accident.

"It sounds like it's helped my speech," he said.

"I mean, you tell me," Dallas added with a laugh. "But, it's also helped my ability to eat."

Dallas does have some feeling in his lips, but with limited movement so far. He also does not have teeth.

Since News 8 last saw Wiens in late June, he gained 10 pounds. The feeling in his face, as newly connected nerves develop, is also better.

"I actually have feeling starting at the top of my right ear, moving down to my chin [and] then about to the right of my right cheek moving down to my chin," he said.

"At this point, I'm not sure that anything sup rises me," said Janis, who suggested Wiens as a candidate for the country's first face transplant after a plastic surgery convention. "I think that from a physical standpoint, obviously we can see that the swelling has gone down and I think that it looks very normal, very natural. [It's] certainly better than anything conventional reconstructive surgery could have done."

"But, I think the real story is his continued amazing spirit, his strength - not only his physical strength, but his mental strength," she said.

Dallas said he's enjoying the summer with his 4-year old daughter Scarlett. They enjoy swimming together, though Dallas must be careful not to submerge his face in water yet.

Dallas is returning to Boston in September for his six-month post-transplant checkup. If all goes well, as expected, he'll take the first steps towards getting teeth so that his appearance will become even more remarkably ordinary.