Burn victim receives nation’s first full face transplant


BOSTON?A
burn victim whose face was badly marred in an accident suffered while
painting a Baptist church in Forth Worth has become the first person in
the United States to undergo a full facial transplant.

The
trailblazing surgery on 25-year-old Dallas Wiens was completed sometime between March 14-18, physicians at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital
announced on March 21. For privacy reasons, the hospital did not say which
day the surgery occurred. It required a deceased donor, whose identity
and date of death was not disclosed, and included a team of more than 30
physicians and nurses led by Bohdan Pomahoc, plastic surgeon and
director of the hospital’s burn center.

Speaking
to reporters on Monday, Bohdan praised Wiens “for his courage and
strength” while calling the donor’s gift “the most selfless gift one
human can give another.”

Bohdan
also thanked the New England Organ Bank, the Department of Defense,
whose research grant helped fund the surgery, and the surgical team who worked for more
than 15 hours to transplant the nose, lips, facial skin, “muscles of
facial animation and the nerves that power them and provide sensation,” a
hospital news release stated.

Del
Peterson of Fort Worth, Wiens’ grandfather, told reporters he thanked
God “for walking with us through this amazing journey.” Peterson told
Pomahoc that he “inspired confidence” in his grandson the first time
they met him and that Wiens, when he is able, plans to be an advocate
for facial transplant surgery.

In
November 2008, Wiens suffered life-threatening burns when he came in
contact with a high-voltage wire while painting his church, Ridglea
Baptist in Fort Worth. Through hours of painstaking surgery, physicians
at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital were able to save Wiens’ life but with
severe facial disfiguration and blindness resulting from the accident.

Early
on, Peterson said, Wiens decided “he could choose to get bitter, or he
could choose to get better. Thank God, today he is better.”

Bohdan
said so far Wiens is “meeting all the milestones,” even speaking with
close family and friends on the phone. On Monday morning he had yet to
eat, “but that will be soon.”

Reflecting
on the surgery, “I was very pleased with what we were able to do,”
Bohdan told reporters. Asked what Wiens’ appearance would be like when
his face is healed, Bohdan said he would look neither like his old self
nor would he resemble the donor, but “probably somewhere in the middle.”

Doctors
used the donor’s skin and some nasal bone to provide some added
structure to Wien’s new face, which should regain most of the sensation
lost in the accident and functionality of the mouth and nose. Attempts
to restore sight to Wiens’ one remaining eye failed last year.

Bohdan
told reporters the surgery is not merely cosmetic and functional but
also involves some ethical considerations. For example, he told of a
former patient who underwent multiple grueling procedures to improve his
physical appearance. Asked by the hospital staff why he continued to
seek treatment with so little promise of significant improvement, the
patient said, “I just want a cab to stop when I’m at the curb.”

Two other people are on a waiting list for similar surgeries, Bohdan said.

Wiens
will spend several months in Boston recovering from his surgery before
returning to Texas for more care and recovery, physicians said. He will
be taking a low dose of anti-rejection drugs for the next year, Bohdan
said.

Wiens spoke to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Evangelism Conference on Feb. 28.

“They
say I’m tenacious but we know differently,” he told those at the
conference. “On the very first line of my medical record it says, ‘This
young man is a miracle of God.’ Even they cannot deny that it was God
who saved my life ? The doctors that I had?God put their skill to work
in the right place and at the right time to keep me alive.”

The accident, Wiens said, put him in a position to hear from God after running from him since his teenage years.

Wiens’ grandmother, Sue Peterson, wrote in an e-mail on March 22 to friends and family, “We are thankful that we serve an awesome God and that He indeed has all the details under control.”

She added, “We continue to lift the donor’s family in prayer for comfort and for peace. Through their loss, Dallas has been given a gift. We are grateful.”

An earlier article in the Southern Baptist TEXAN chronicled Wiens’ injury and recovery, accessible at http://texanonline.net/default.asp?action=article&aid=7069

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