Dallas Wiens Before and After Face Transplant

Dallas Wiens before his injury; after the injury; soon after face transplant surgery; one year after the face transplant

Look at photos of Dallas Wiens over the past four years, and you’ll see a man of many faces.

The photo journey starts at age 23, with Wiens appearing handsome and healthy. Next, a horrific injury burns away all of his facial features – nose, lips, eyes – leaving his face scarred and vacant. Then, in spring 2011 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Wiens receives the gift of a new face – the first full face transplant in the U.S. – which provides him the typical facial features of any other man. Next stop, today – a year after the transplant – the swelling that is normal after any surgery has subsided and his nerve function has improved enough for him to smile and speak. He looks much like any other man you might see on the street.

To the casual observer, this multi-step transformation is obvious and stunning. But to Wiens’ now-5-year-old daughter Scarlette, her daddy always has been the same man. Wiens’ grandfather recounts that even after the burn left Dallas Wiens’ face featureless and blank, his daughter continued to crawl her way onto his lap, not in the least deterred by her father’s changed exterior.

By all accounts, Wiens has been a dedicated father before and throughout his face-changing journey. But during his faceless years, that devotion often was stopped short by his dread of showing himself in public. Now, when asked what has changed most in his life since receiving the face transplant, Wiens first and foremost expresses the joy of being able to be there with and for his daughter.

His most precious moment came the day that nerves in his cheek started to function again, and he felt Scarlette’s kiss on his cheek. “When I felt it, I stilled myself until she walked out of the room,” he recalls, his voice deeply emotional. “As soon as she did, I broke into tears – tears of joy obviously.” (In a previous blog post, double-hand-transplant patient Richard Mangino also described the tremendous emotion of a returned sense of touch.)

But perhaps just as valuable, Wiens can go out in the open with his daughter again. Just last week, they visited the zoo at Fort Worth,Texas. (“She loves pink flamingos,” he shares.) “I could have gone before,” he admits. “But I would have been completely uncomfortable.” As a blind man (the face transplant couldn’t restore his sight), Wiens never saw the stares. But he felt them. He sensed the entire environment change wherever he went, and he would hurry back to the privacy and protection of his home.

Today, he notes, “I choose not to walk quickly.” He can spend an afternoon at the zoo or the park. His daughter is now in kindergarten and he feels comfortable going to her school functions or taking her to Chuck E. Cheese’s (one of her favorite hang-outs). It’s great, he says, “being able to sit at a coffee shop and have a coffee without any problem.” (In a previous blog post, other face transplant patients shared this same joy in the “return to normal.”)

With his new face, Wiens imagines a full life ahead of him. He soon will enter a school for the blind to learn Braille and how to live more independently. “In ten years,” he says, “I hope to be fully independent and raising Scarlette.”

Like any other organ transplant, a face transplant is a life-giving procedure. As Wiens puts it: “It has changed my life for the better, and my life will never be the same.”

– Linda W

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