Ten months after receiving the first full face transplant in the United States, 25-year-old Dallas Wiens of Fort Worth, Texas, said he can smile.
Wiens suffered life-threatening burns to his head when the boom lift he was operating drifted into a nearby power line in 2008. The horrific accident and 22 surgeries that followed left Wiens with a face void of features short of a lipless mouth and a small goatee.
But in March, a team of more than 30 doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists at Brigham and Woman's Hospital in Boston worked for more than 17 hours to give him a new face, complete with skin and the muscles and nerves needed to animate it.
"The ability to smile and to show emotion on my face, even unintentionally, is such a natural thing," Wiens told the Dallas Morning News. "Having a new face has changed me dramatically."
Since 2005, 18 patients have received facial transplants, most of them to restore partial face defects. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery and transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, has now performed three face transplants, including Wiens'. The latest recipient was Charla Nash, whose face was horribly mauled by her friend's pet chimpanzee in 2009.
"I think it's important for people to realize this is becoming a reproducible technique," said Pomahac, who detailed the transplants in a December report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. "The extent of how it will be used is undetermined, but it's here to stay."
For Wiens, who after a two-month recovery reunited with his young daughter Scarlette on "Good Morning America" in May, the transplant was a second chance at a normal life.
"I don't look much different than anybody else," he the Dallas Morning News.
Thanks to physical therapy, Wiens can move his lips to smile and drink from a glass. He has had to return to Brigham and Women's Hospital for adjustments to make the face fit more snugly, The Associated Press reported.
Although he's happy with his new face, Wiens said it doesn't define who he is.
"This new face, it's not who I am. The old face wasn't either," he said. "Who you are is inside -- it's internalized. It's who you show the world."
Wiens' positive outlook has been a driving force behind his remarkable recovery, according to his doctors and his family.
"You have to choose to get bitter or get better," he said. "And I chose to get better."