Face-transplant recipients and how they heal

Texas construction worker Dallas Wiens made news recently after undergoing the nation’s first full-facial transplant. Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston say he’s recovering from the 15-hour surgery undertaken last week to correct burns so severe that his face was seared off.

But like any transplant recipient, recovery takes a long time. James Maki received a transplant at the same hospital two years ago after falling onto the electrified third rail off a Boston subway station.

For him, the surgery restored his ability to breathe, speak and swallow. Now the hospital features his story on its website. It says:


“Formerly incoherent speech is now crystal clear. “I was so happy when I could talk again,” said Jim. And, as nerves regenerated and muscle function was restored, he also recovered his ability to smile and show other emotions.

“Psychologically, the restoration of his facial features has led to a restoration of confidence. Now Jim refuses to live his life indoors. “I go out a lot,” he said. But he also understands that the stares won’t go away overnight. “It doesn’t bother me now,” he said. “It used to, but I’ve gotten past that.”

Connie Culp, a facial-transplant patient at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, went public in 2009 with the results of her surgery. She had received a gunshot blast to the face by her husband. This story explains:

“Culp, who had been taunted and called names because of her appearance, asked that everyone think twice about judging people who look differently. “When somebody has a disfigurement or doesn’t look as pretty as you, don’t judge them,” she said. “You never know what happened to them and you never know what might happen to you . . . . it might all be taken away.”

In time, we hope to read of Wiens’ progress as well.