BOSTON (AFP) – A young man horrifically injured by an electric shock while working in a cherry picker has successfully received the United States' first full face transplant, a Boston hospital said Monday.
Dallas Wiens, 25, can look forward to a new life with a donated face attached last week by a 30-strong team at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which said it was "the first full face transplant" performed in the country.
Although plastic surgeons could not restore Wiens's sight, he is otherwise on the road to recovery and already chatting, the lead doctor, Bohdan Pomahac, told a press conference.
"He's awake and talking on a cell phone," he said.
"Today's tremendous news marks a new milestone in Brigham and Women's legacy in transplant surgery. The pioneering achievement by the entire transplant team is a gift made possible by the most selfless act one human being can do for another: organ donation," hospital president Betsy Nable said.
Wiens, from Texas, was injured in November 2008 when his head touched a high voltage electrical wire when he was working in a cherry picker, an extendable work platform used by builders. The burns literally erased his face.
Pomahac led the team of physicians, nurses and anesthesiologists for over 15 hours to replace Wiens's "nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and the nerves that power them to provide sensation," a statement said.
The $300,000 cost of the operation was met by the US Department of Defense as part of research into aiding severely wounded service personnel.
Wiens's grandfather, Del Peterson, effusively thanked doctors for their surgical marathon.
"You have made this day an amazing journey. And you have blessed Dallas's life and we thank you," he said.
"Dallas always said after the injury that he now had a choice: he could just choose to get bitter, or choose to get better. His choice was to get better. Thank God today he's better."
This was the second face transplant the hospital has done in the last four years. A partial transplant was performed on James Maki, who fell on the electrified rail in a Boston subway station and severely burned most of his face.
Pomahac, flanked by the rest of his team, said the prognosis for patients in such ground-breaking operations was good.
"I am happy to report that Jim Maki, our first face transplant recipient is doing great and we're confident that Dallas is on a similar course," he said.