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Boston Hospital Performs First U.S. Full Face Transplant

Mon, 03/21/2011 - 7:17am

(AP) — A construction worker badly disfigured in a power line accident two years ago has received the United States' 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. He was listed in good condition at the hospital on Monday.

The world's first full face transplant was performed by doctors in Spain last March for a farmer who was unable to breathe or eat on his own after accidentally shooting himself in the face. Wiens, of Fort Worth, Texas, was left blind and without lips, a nose or eyebrows after an electrical accident in November 2008. 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 healthcare law helped 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 his 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. When he turns 26 in May, he'll be eligible to receive Medicare, the government plan that covers the disabled.

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.

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