Fort Worth face transplant candidate waits for phone call

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on October 13, 2010 at 6:40 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 14 at 4:06 PM

FORT WORTH — A young man whose face was burned off by a massive jolt of electricity is waiting for another jolt nearly as powerful: The phone call to let him know that his new face is ready for transplant.

Dallas Wiens said he was at first speechless when told he has been accepted for experimental surgery.

But he has a lot to say now, standing under the power lines behind Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

"Sure is good to be here, though. This is where it actually happened," he said, motioning with his white cane at the utility lines that nearly killed him.

The accident happened two years ago. Wiens was finishing up a contracting job when his lift drifted into the power lines.

He woke up three months later with his face burned off, just grateful to be alive.

"It's a shot at a brand new life," he said. "It's a new lease, you know?"

In fact, Dallas Wiens said he's never been happier. He is happier still since learning that he was accepted for an experimental face transplant.

"It's really scary when you think about it, when you consider the size of the surgery," he said.

But Wiens has already had 22 surgeries, including one 32-hour session for reconstruction.

Doctors used skin from his legs to cover his exposed skull. One non-functioning eye is sealed beneath the skin. The other is gone.

He said he doesn't want a new face because of how he might look, but because of what he might feel — a kiss from Scarlett, his three-year-old daughter.

"I can't feel her kisses, and I can't truly kiss her back," he said. "I just have to go 'click' and click my tongue to simulate a kiss."

Surgeons tell Wiens he should be able to move his new face, and smell again, but not see.

But he hasn't lost hope on that, either. Why?

"Because I'm 25 years old," he explained. "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."

Wiens is working toward a law degree to advocate for the blind.

His surgery will be at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where doctors have performed one of only two face transplants in the U.S.

"They thought I would be a vegetable," he said with a laugh. "And as time went on, they began to realize there was zero damage done to my brain. I joke with doctors that I got a jump start."

Dallas Wiens doesn't call what happened to him an accident. He wasn't religious before, but he calls this a gift from God.

"I have a joy I have never known, and it's worth it to me," he said.

That's because he said he feels a joy to serve others... a purpose.

Weins said his disability is even giving him a chance to serve his country, as he tried to do when he joined the Army several years ago. He said he had to take a medical discharge because of knee problems.

Now the military will pay for his experimental transplant. Even if the surgery goes bad, Wiens is proud to know that lessons learned will help wounded soldiers in the future.

Dallas Wiens went back and joined the church where he lost his face. He said it's all part of a plan that he hopes will include a phone call soon... telling him to fly to Boston to receive his new face.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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