For years, Dallas Wiens couldn't feel his daughter kiss his face. But now the 26-year-old said he is brought to tears when he feels his daughter touch his cheek.
"I remember the first time she kissed me on the lower part of my cheek," said Wiens, who is the nation's first full face transplant recipient. "It was a very cool sensation. As soon as she did it I basically broke into tears of joy."
Wiens spoke yesterday about his recovery one year after his groundbreaking surgery in Boston. He showed up dressed in a crisp suit. His hair was combed back and he had a soul patch on his chin.
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He sat alongside his hometown physician, Dr. Jeffrey Janis, and the head of the Brigham and Women's Hospital face transplant team, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac.
The doctors said Wiens can now smile and express emotions in his face.
He was severely injured and disfigured after an accident in 2008 when he came into contact with high voltage lines while working on a lift.
Wiens has gained feeling and control of his lips, but still has no teeth. Dental implants are a future step. He also has prosthetic eyes.
For Wiens, the recovery has led to a new feeling about life. He talked about being able to sit in a coffee shop or take a stroll and not get stares or questions from people who see him.
Wiens also said he enjoyed feeling the sunshine on his face.
"Those types of things can't be measured," he said.
A 'model' patient
Wiens' doctors called him a model patient.
Pomahac said that one of the most remarkable things about Wiens' recovery is how he has not had a rejection episode, which is common.
Janis said it takes great physical and mental fortitude to go through what Wiens has.
Doctors said they are continuing to learn things about the procedure as Wiens recovers.
Janis said doctors are now more aware of how to treat patients who are admitted with similar injuries and what facial aspects are important to save to preserve the possibility of a future transplant.
Dallas Wiens was the first full face transplant in the country, but not the last.
Mitch Hunter received the second full-face transplant in the nation at Brigham and Women's in April 2011. He suffered a severe shock from a high voltage wire after a car crash.
Charla Nash received a full-face transplant last summer. A chimp mauled her in 2009.
James Maki received the nation's first partial face transplant in 2009, after he fell on the third rail on the MBTA.