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Face-transplant recipient makes disquieting first appearance

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Well, it's at least good to see that her [b]smoking[/b] ability has been restored.


Face-transplant recipient makes an appearance
‘I feel my lips, my nose and my mouth,’ French woman says
Francois Mori / AP

Isabelle Dinoire, the woman who received the world's first partial face transplant with part of a nose, chin and lips, addresses reporters in her first press appearance since the November surgery in France.

Updated: 11:08 a.m. ET Feb. 6, 2006

AMIENS, France - The Frenchwoman who underwent the world’s first partial face transplant said on Monday she was grateful to now have a face “like everybody else” and wanted to resume a normal life.

Isabelle Dinoire, 38, smiled and laughed awkwardly in her first appearance before reporters since the operation in November, and spoke in slurred and labored tones.

She still has fine scar lines running from her nose down to her jaw, dividing her upper face from the transplanted lower area, and does not seem to be able to close her mouth.
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“Since the day of the operation I have had a face like everybody else,” Dinoire told a packed news conference at Amiens hospital in northeastern France.

“I am now able to open my mouth and eat. Recently, I have also been able to feel my lips, my nose, my mouth,” she said, adding that feeling was returning gradually.

Her speech was heavily slurred and difficult to understand, but she explained how she was disfigured by her own dog bite last May and she thanked the family of the donor who gave her new lips, a chin and nose.

A circular scar was still visible where the face tissue was attached in the 15-hour operation on Nov. 27 in Amiens. Dinoire appeared to still have great difficulty moving or even closing her mouth, which often hung open. But she said that she was regaining sensation.

Dinoire who received the world's first partial face transplant addresses a news conference at Amiens hospital in France
Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
Isabelle Dinoire spoke publicly for the first time since her operation, saying she was thankful to have the opportunity for a new start in life. In a 15-hour operation surgeons used tissues, muscles, arteries and veins from a brain-dead woman to rebuild Dinoire's face.

She smiled as she described what she had suffered before surgeons gave her a new nose, lips and chin. During the news conference, while one of her surgeons was speaking, she lifted a cup to her lips and appeared to drink.

“Every day, when I left my house, I had to face up to people’s stares and what they were thinking,” she said. Eating and speaking were difficult.

She said she had been unconscious when the dog bit her, and only realized how badly she was injured only when she tried to smoke a cigarette and could not hold it between her lips.

Her horror at the extent of her injuries last May was followed months later by delight when she first looked in the mirror after her operation and felt no pain in the lower half of her face.

In terms of coloring, the match between her own skin and the graft appeared remarkable.

"I expect to resume a normal life ... I pay homage to the donor's family," Dinoire said. "My operation could help others to live again."

Exercise and treatment
Dinoire will continue treatment and exercises to regain full use of her facial muscles after the 15-hour operation, in which surgeons used tissues, muscles, arteries and veins from a dead woman to rebuild her face.

Dinoire, a divorced mother of two teenage daughters, spoke frankly about the horrific attack in May by her Labrador. She said she was passed out when the dog bit her and that she did not immediately realize the extent of her disfigurement when she awoke.

"When I woke up, I tried to light a cigarette, and I didn't understand why I couldn't hold it between my lips," she said.

She added that she then went to look at herself in a mirror and was horrified by what she saw. She also explained the difficulties of life with disfigurement, saying she suffered stares when she went out.

“I now understand people with a handicap,” Dinoire said, expressing hope that her operation could now help others.

The transplant has given hope to others disfigured by burns or accidents, but it has also raised psychological and ethical issues for the recipient and the donor family.

Won't be the last
Some newspapers in Britain and France have suggested that Dinoire deliberately took an overdose of sleeping pills before being attacked by her dog, and that the face donor had committed suicide.

Dinoire did not comment on these reports. Doctors have denied she tried to kill herself, saying she had been drowsy at the time of the dog’s attack because she had taken medicine to calm her down following an argument with her daughter.

Doctors have criticized media coverage of the case, saying much of it has been sensationalist, and repeated a plea for reporters to respect the patient’s privacy.

The team of surgeons that carried out the pioneering surgery said they had asked the Health Ministry to allow them to carry out five similar transplants. They did not say whether the ministry had responded.

“She is the first but she is not going to remain unique,” said Professor Jean-Michel Dubernard, a surgeon from a hospital in Lyon who was also involved in the transplant.

Doctors have said they cannot rule out rejection of Dinoire’s transplant in the future but said the use of bone marrow from the donor had helped to reduce such dangers.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive