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The Nation

March 21, 2011

Boston hospital performs full face transplant

BOSTON — A Texas construction worker badly disfigured in a power line accident two years ago has received the nation's first full face transplant at a Boston hospital.

More than 30 doctors, nurses and other staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital led by plastic surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac performed the 15-hour operation last week on 25-year-old Dallas Wiens, of Fort Worth, Texas. He was listed in good condition at the hospital on Monday.

The electrical accident in November 2008 left Wiens blind and without lips, a nose or eyebrows. In Boston, doctors transplanted an entire new face, including a nose, lips, skin and muscles and nerves that animate the skin and give sensation. The donor's identity was not disclosed.

The new federal health care law help make the operation possible. Wiens had no insurance when he was injured; Medicaid covered about two dozen surgeries until his disability payments put him over income limit. Because he's under 26, the new law allowed him to qualify for coverage under his father's plan, which will cover the expensive drugs he will need lifelong to prevent rejection of his new face.

In an Associated Press story and a YouTube video last fall, Wiens spoke poignantly about why he wanted a transplant and how he wanted to smile again and feel kisses from his 3-year-old daughter. Face transplants give horribly disfigured people hope of a new option "rather than looking in the mirror and hating what they see," he said.

This was the second face transplant the Boston hospital has performed; the previous one was in April 2009 — the partial replacement of the face of a man who suffered traumatic facial injuries from a freak accident.

The world's first face transplant, also a partial, was done in France in 2005 on a woman mauled by her dog. Doctors in Spain performed the first full face transplant last March for a farmer who was unable to breathe or eat on his own after accidentally shooting himself in the face.

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