man who endured severe electrical burns has received the first full face
transplant in the United States, and is ready to go home to his family after
months of recovery.
Wiens, 26, was injured in November 2008 while volunteering at his church. While
painting the church, his head came too close to the high-voltage power line
above, and electrical burns caused him to lose nearly his entire face. He was in
a medically induced coma for 90 days following the accident, where doctors
performed several surgeries on Wiens.
survived the burns and was able to leave the intensive care unit, but needed to
regularly seek treatment from Dr. Jeffrey Janis of Parkland Hospital and the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
then contacted Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, who is the Burn Unit director at Brigham and
Women's Hospital in Massachusetts. Pomahac has previous experience with
patients like Wiens, having performed a partial face transplant in the past.
But never before had he performed a full face transplant.
a full face transplant had never been accomplished in the United States at that
point. The closest example would be Connie Culp from Ohio, who received a
transplant of more than 80 percent of her face in December 2008 after her
husband shot her in 2004. In 2005, the first partial face transplant occurred
in France, and in 2010, a patient referred to as "Oscar" received the
first full face transplant ever in Spain.
mid-March, Wiens underwent a 15-hour full face transplant, marking the first ever full face
transplant in the U.S. He received a donor nasal structure, nose, lips,
forehead and facial skin as well as muscles and nerves for movement and
feeling. His face did not look the same as it once did, and it did not resemble
the donor either due to the shape of Wiens' skull and the addition of skin, fat and muscle, but Wiens was happy to have facial features
and certain senses again.
I woke up, and I was able to feel I had features again -- eyes and a nose and a
mouth -- I even said out loud that this could not be medically possible,"
said Wiens. "But here I am today."
now, Wiens can feel pressure on his face. As time goes by, he will gradually be
able to start moving his lips and face and feel light on his facial skin. Janis
notes that this may take about six to nine months. Wiens is also able to speak
a little bit, but this will improve over time as well.
news for Wiens is that his facial skin is capable of growing facial hair.
Before the electrical burns, Wiens' signature look included a goatee. So even
though his face does look different, he can feel more at home in his new skin
with the goatee he's always had.
Wiens, the most important outcome of this procedure was to regain feeling in
his face so that he could feel his 4-year-old daughter, Scarlette, kiss him
again. Scarlette was Wiens' main motivation while undergoing such a pioneering
surgical procedure, and after she saw him with the new face, she confirmed for
Wiens that the lengthy process was worth it by telling him he was handsome.
time being, the only sense Wiens cannot obtain is sight due to the lack of
technology. But Pomahac noted that this could change in the future and that he
expects a large amount of growth in this area of the medical field.
In fact, there is another patient waiting to undergo the same procedure as
Wiens via a Department of Defense grant, which paid for Wiens' surgery.
Wiens now has to take medication for the rest of his life and still see Pomahac
and Janis for follow-ups, he is glad to have had the opportunity to change his
life, and is now ready to go back to Texas to spend time with his daughter and
continue his education.