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"The choice that they made has in a very real, very great way changed my life and my daughter's," Wiens said. "And so from the bottom of my heart, and I know from the bottom of hers, we both thank you very much."
Wiens may never know the identity of the person whose face gave him new life. He can't see, but he can feel the face — which is now his.
"To me the face feels natural. It feels as if it's become my own," Wiens, of Forth Worth Texas, said. "It's an amazing feeling to know that there will be a time where everything will be normal again."
Things were so very far from normal for him two-and-a-half years ago.
His facial features burned away and his eyes were destroyed when he hit a power line while painting a church. He spent three months in a medically induced coma — his dreams telling him he was badly hurt.
In 2009, one of his plastic surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Dr. Jeffery Janis, met Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Brigham and Women's at a conference. Pomahac spoke of the partial face transplant the Brigham had performed. Janis immediately got the ball rolling for his patient.
"I never thought that I would ever be standing here, witnessing what I think is absolutely historic in terms of a transformation of somebody with a devastating injury like what Dallas had, to get to this point where he's sitting in front of you for the first time," Janis said.
A grant from the U.S. Department of Defense paid for the surgery, which took a team of 30 doctors and nurses about 15 hours back in March. The military is hoping techniques learned in such operations will help troops who suffer severe facial injuries.
Pomahac, the lead surgeon, says Wiens should start regaining feeling and function in his face in the next nine months. Other patients will follow.
"Right now we're trying to select patients that clearly have no other conventional options," Pomahac said. "I think in the future you could see that this field could really expand... to perhaps not as dramatic facial deformities. But I would expect that we will see certainly growth and more of these cases happening."
Wiens is now returning home to Texas, where he'll continue his recovery under the care of doctors and therapists. He most wants to focus on his life with his 4-year-old daughter, Scarlette, who came to Boston to visit last week.
"She was amazed," Wiens said. "She actually said, 'Daddy, you're so handsome.' And getting to hold her, her crawling up into my lap... the injury didn't faze her..."
Meanwhile, he's thrilled to have his sense of smell back, and he's keeping his sense of humor.
"The funniest thing is that the first thing I was able to smell is hospital lasagne," Wiens shared. "And you wouldn't imagine it, but it smelled delicious."
This program aired on May 9, 2011.
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