Brigham and Women's Hospital
The first full-face transplant was performed at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital. Photo Credit: Brigham and Women's Hospital/Wikimedia Commons.

The very first full-face transplant in America was recently performed at a hospital in Boston. Dallas Wiens was horribly disfigured in 2008 when a power line touched his face and burned off nearly all of his facial features. Facial transplants have only become possible in the past decade, and Wiens’ is among the first full-facial transplants ever performed.

Texan man undergoes 15 hours of surgery for new face

In 2008, Dallas Wiens suffered a horrific accident while employed as a construction worker in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the New York Daily News. He lost control of a boom lift and his head touched power lines, which electrocuted him. Most of Wiens’ face was scorched off, and he spent three months in a coma. Doctors were able to place skin grafts on his face, but his nose and ears were completely burned off. The accident also left Wiens blind.

However, a tissue donation made a facial transplant possible, which was performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. A surgical team of more than 30 was headed by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a plastic surgeon. The procedure, according to MSNBC, lasted nearly 15 hours and is the first full-facial transplant performed in the United States.

Department of Defense bankrolls procedure

Mr. Wiens had reached the limits of his Medicaid coverage. He did not have health insurance at the time of his accident, and the two dozen other procedures he had undergone were covered under Medicare. However, the cost of his previous surgeries and disability benefits had put him over the limit for Medicaid coverage. In order for Wiens to undergo the procedure, the Department of Defense agreed to pick up the tab as part of a grant for transplant research.

Wiens will have to be on immunosuppressants for the rest of his life, which will keep his body from rejecting the new face. A provision of the health care reform laws, sometimes referred to as “Obama Care,” allowed him to remain on his father’s medical insurance plan until age 26, at which time he will become eligible for Medicare. Wiens will gain a new nose, lips and ears, but will not regain his sight.

First total facial transplant in the United States

Wiens, 25, is the first man to receive a total facial transplant in the United States. The first facial transplant ever performed using donor tissue was a partial transplant performed in Spain in 2006. The first full-facial transplant was carried out in France in 2009. This is the second face transplant performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, after a partial facial transplant was performed there in 2009. The first ever facial transplant performed in the U.S. took place in 2008, according to the Chicago Tribune, when Connie Culp received a partial face transplant after being disfigured in 2004 when she was hit with a shotgun blast.

Sources

New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2011/03/21/2011-03-21_dallas_wiens_fort_worth_dad_becomes_3rd_man_in_us_to_receive_full_face_transplan.html

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42192670/ns/health-health_care/?gt1=43001

Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-usreport-us-face-trtre72k4al-20110321,0,1447551.story?track=rss

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