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Dallas Wiens defied the odds when he survived the injury that took his face and left him blind. This week, the 26-year-old marked his one-year anniversary since becoming the nation’s first full face transplant recipient—and he continues to defy the odds.
“Dallas is the only transplant recipient in the world we are aware of who has not experienced an episode of rejection from immunosuppression medications,” said Bohdan Pomahac, MD, director of the Plastic Surgery Transplantation Program and the BWH Burn Center.
Pomahac and a multidisciplinary team performed the surgery in March 2011, working for more than 15 hours to replace Wiens’ nose, lips and facial skin, as well as the muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation. Wiens had lost his facial features and his sight in 2008 when the cherry-picker he was working in maneuvered into a high voltage wire.
A confident, optimistic Wiens returned to BWH April 2 to reflect on the triumphs and challenges of the past year – his first living with a new face. He addressed the media during a press conference, answering questions about his life post-transplant.
“It is an amazing journey to experience life the way that I have and to meet the people I’ve met,” he told reporters.
Physically, Wiens has made remarkable progress in the past year. He gained the ability to smile, and now has sensation in most of his face. “I can feel my daughter’s kisses,” he said. “I can move my face quite a bit more than I expected.”
For Wiens, some of the most extraordinary experiences of the past year have been enjoying life’s simple pleasures. He relishes visiting coffee shops and the botanical gardens near his home, taking in the sweet aroma of the flowers. He also likes to accompany his four-year-old daughter, Scarlette, to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
“I go out all the time with my family, my friends and my little girl,” he said. “I’ve been told I hardly ever get a second look. It’s amazing to regain a life you weren’t quite sure you were ever going to have again.”
His doctors believe that Wiens’ experience could help other transplant recipients regain better quality of life in the future.
“Dallas has experienced almost no side effects from his medications,” Pomahac said. “One of the advances we hope to accomplish with the knowledge gathered from our four face transplant recipients, as well as our double hand transplant recipient, is to get to the point that recipients no longer require immunosuppression medications.”
Pomahac said he believes that goal is within reach. “We look forward to further innovation and discovery in this area of science,” he said.
As for Wiens, he is looking forward to attending a school for the blind this summer and to continue growing the foundation he established. Through the About Face Foundation, he hopes to provide support and resources to others with similar medical conditions.
“I’m just all-around looking forward to the future to see where it leads,” Wiens said with a smile.