Face transplant dad embraces life after surgery
'I wanted to go to her school events and not feel like I was going to offend the other parents. She's the world to me'
Dallas Wiens has been having allergy problems lately, but a stuffy nose is something of a blessing for a man whose entire face was burned away in an electrical accident two and a half years ago.
"I couldn't breathe through my nose - I didn't have one," Wiens said this week.
The 26-year-old Fort Worth man received the first full face transplant ever performed in the United States in March, and is now at home fielding interviews, doing pull-ups and, best of all, kissing his little daughter Scarlette.
A team of 30 doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists and residents led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac performed the transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, replacing Wiens' nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and nerves.
Three months after the 15-hour surgery, Wiens' speech is slightly difficult to understand as he rattles off the details of his recovery.
He has a full head of hair now, along with a goatee and mustache. He enjoys being able to shave again.
"You're going to (get) better or you're going to get bitter, and I have a 4-year-old reason why I need to get better," he said, referring to his daughter.
He is wearing sunglasses that conceal a missing left eye, and he remains blind, a condition that doesn't seem to faze him.
"Typically, and I was the same way, you would look at someone and see a defining feature, and the judgment begins," he said, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans. "I can't do that, and I like that."
Instead, Wiens said, he connects with people from the heart. One of his biggest concerns is being able to "maintain that gift" if he is ever able to see again.
HAD TRANSPLANT FOR DAUGHTER
More surgeries are in store for Wiens this year to help correct drooping on one side of his face. Since the accident in November 2008, Wiens has endured more than 20 major surgeries.
That day, he was in a cherry picker painting Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth when his left temple touched a high-voltage line.
He was unconscious for three months at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, his face burned to the skull, his body damaged from a current he said was equivalent to three lightning bolts.
When he realized his face was gone, "it was kind of a shock at first, but it never really was distressful."
Wiens said he would have been comfortable as he was, but he had the transplant for Scarlette.
He wanted to feel her kiss his face and spare her embarrassment at school.
"I don't want to downplay the functional benefits at all," he said. "But when it really comes down to it, it wasn't what I could get back. I wanted to go to her school events and not feel like I was going to offend the other parents. She's the world to me."
Wiens said he'd like to attend college when his recovery is more complete. He's heading to Michigan later this year for training with a guide dog, courtesy of an area Lions Club.
For now, he's working on a fantasy novel that he started in his teens and spending time with Scarlette in his grandparents' home in Fort Worth.
- The donor, a man between 35 and 50, remains anonymous, although Wiens said he hopes he can one day meet his family.
"It would mean the world to me," he said. "I would meet with them and hug them and cry."