Dallas Wiens, 26, of Texas, who had previously come to terms with a vastly deformative injury which virtually erased his face, expressed gratitude to the family of his new face's donor and doctors remarked on his transformation as he made his first public appearance after becoming the first recipient of a full facial transplant in the United States.
Most of Wiens' face was burned off during an electrical accident in 2008 in Fort Worth. He was working on a cherry picker, finishing a painting job at Ridglea Baptist Church, when the machine hit a power line. He awoke from a coma three months later.
He has long come to grips with the accident. Ahead of the surgery in March, in an interview, Wiens, who said he wasn't religious prior to the accident, called the situation he was facing a gift from God.
I have a joy that I've never known and ... it's worth it to me, he said in an interview with ABC. He rejoined the church - which he had once left - where he lost his face.
Wiens, ahead of the surgery, was able to walk and talk. However he was blind and had no facial features including nose, eyes and lips. The skin on his face stretched over his skull. Only a small patch of goatee hair was still growing on one side of his chin. The injury had prevented any hair from growing on the left-front part of his head.
At Monday's press conference, Wiens appeared wearing sunglasses. He had a full head of hair except for a large surgical scar on the part of his head where the new face was joined with his head. The new face had a moustache and beard which are able to grow.
On Monday, Wiens described the gratitude he felt after the surgery.
There are no words to truly describe the debt of gratitude or love that I can possess for the donor's family, Wiens told reporters at a press conference in Boston on Monday at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital.
The choice that they made, has in a very real and very great way changed my life and my daughter's life so from the bottom of my heart and I know from the bottom of hers we thank you very much, he said.
His speech was intelligible, although somewhat muffled. His doctors said at the press conference that he should have almost complete control over his facial functions once the muscles and nerves heal.
Wiens thanked the doctors in previous life-saving surgeries and the latest one.
The new face came from an anonymous donor.
This is precisely the outcome we hope for when we offer donor families the opportunity to make this type of donation, said Richard Luskin, President and CEO of New England Organ Bank.
Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, MD, the director of the Burn Center said that in his team there was an unwavering desire to do anything and everything for Dallas and those like him.
Pomahac also thanked the donor family who provided the most selfless gift that one human can provide another, the gift of organ donation.
Daughter: 'You're so handsome'
Wiens recalled that his daughter, Scarlett, was amazed when she saw him after the surgery.
Daddy you're so handsome, he recalls her saying. The injury didn't faze her and the transplant didn't faze her. For her I'm still daddy and that in itself is an amazing thing, he said.
Wiens was asked what the best moment for him had been since the surgery.
I'd have to say, seeing my daughter again after many weeks but with the face, it was the ability to smell again after 2 and a half years, he said.
The ability to breathe through my nose normally - that in itself was a major gift, he said.
This face transplant will allow Dallas, who by all accounts is a devoted father, to more fully participate in Scarlett's life. That's a true gift, Pomahac said.
For me the face feels natural. It feels as if it's become my own, Wiens said. There's much healing still left to do, he acknowledged.
Jeffrey Janis, MD , the head of the burn unit at the University of Texas, said when the injury first took place two and a half years ago I never thought I would be standing here witnessing what I think is absolutely historic in terms of a transformation of someone with a devastating injury like what Dallas had.
That wasn't on the radar at the time, he said. It wasn't a part of the conversation.
Janis met Pomahac at a a medical conference in Seattle in 2009, where Janis saw the results of some surgeries which Pomahac had performed previously.
It's unbelievable what you've been able to do. I think I've got a patient for you, Janis recalls telling Pomahac at the time.
Janis then got in touch with Wiens an told him of the possibility.
I was astonished to learn what had been done before and just to know that it's a possibility that I could maybe be a candidate is an amazing idea, Wiens said, recalling Janis' explanation.
Wiens says his plan now is to go back to my life and be able to spend time with my family .. being a father, possibly going back to college.
Pomahac says it is expected that Wiens will see recovery of coordinate facial function and the ability to essentially function near or completely normal.
In terms of what's next for the future of reconstructive surgery, Pomohac says the results of surgeries will determine that.
I think what we are learning, primarily about the outcomes and what we'll think about next is probably based on the outcomes, they are really the indications, he said.
So right now we are trying to select patients that really have no other conventional option. I think in the future you could see that this field could really expand if the indications open up to perhaps not as dramatic facial deformities but I expect that we would see certainly growth and more of these cases happening, he said.
Pomahac described Wiens' situation ahead of the surgery.
He was quite literally a man without a face. In addition to social issues and living without a face, he was unable to smell and at times had difficulty breathing, requiring his tracheostomy, he said.
It has been three months since the 15 hour procedure involving a team of more than 30 physicians, nurses and anesthesiologists. The surgery gave him back a nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them.
Brigham and Woman's Hospital noted that consent for the donation of tissue graft from the face was obtained from the New England Organ Bank after conversations with the donor family. Registering as an organ and tissue donor on a driver's license is not accepted as consent for face donation. Family consent is required, the hospital said.
Elof Eriksson, MD, PhD, the Chief of the Plastic Surgery division at Brigham said Wiens is a model of courage and exemplifies what can be done.
Press Conference Highlights
Wiens Arrives at Airport, Goes to Surgery
Dallas Wiens Post-Surgery Interview