Originally created 02/07/06

Face transplant patient looks 'like everyone else'



AMIENS, France - The Frenchwoman who received the world's first partial face transplant showed off her new features to the public Monday, saying in a heavily slurred voice that she now looks "like everyone else" and hopes to resume a normal life.

Isabelle Dinoire's speech was difficult to understand, but she explained how she was disfigured by a dog bite last year, and she thanked the family of the donor who gave her new lips, a chin and nose.

A fine, circular scar was still visible where the face tissue was attached in the 15-hour operation in Amiens on Nov. 27.

"I have a face like everyone else," Dinoire said at her first news conference since the groundbreaking surgery in November. "A door to the future is opening."

She explained how she was mauled by a dog last year and thanked the family of the donor who gave her new lips, a chin and nose.

Dinoire, who is in her late 30s, appeared to have great difficulty moving or even closing her mouth, which often hung open. But she said that she was regaining sensation.

"I can open my mouth and eat. I feel my lips, my nose and my mouth," she said. During the news conference, while one of her surgeons was speaking, she lifted a cup to her lips and appeared to drink.

In terms of coloring, the match between her own skin and the graft was remarkable. When she laughed, she was able to slightly lift a corner of her mouth but appeared unable to bring her lips together to form a full smile. When she talked, her lips did not move.

She said she was pursuing physical therapy and noted that she will have to continue taking drugs to stop her body from rejecting the donated tissue. Yet, she looked forward to the future and said she is eager to return home.

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

Her doctors, who also attended the news conference, said they have asked French health authorities for permission to perform another five face transplants. Dr. Jean Michel Dubernard said they want "to give this operation to many, many other people in France and in the world."

The surgeons defended their decision to go ahead with the untried procedure, saying they repeatedly warned Dinoire about the risks involved. The doctors said they could not say for sure how long the transplanted tissue might stay alive.

Dinoire, a divorced mother of two teenage daughters, spoke frankly about the attack in May by her Labrador. She said she was wrestling with personal problems at the time, had had a trying week, and "took some drugs to forget," which knocked her out.

She said she was passed out when the dog bit her, and 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. "That's when I saw the pool of blood and the dog next to me. I looked at myself in the mirror, and there, horrified, I couldn't believe what I saw - especially because it didn't hurt. Ever since this day, my life has changed."

The dog was euthanized.

She also explained the difficulties of life with disfigurement, saying she suffered stares when she went out.

"I understand all people who have a handicap," she said.

She said she "accepted immediately" when her surgeons suggested the transplant. But the procedure did not restore the way she looked before the dog bit her.

"There's no comparison between the face I have today and the face I had seven months ago," she said. "It is totally different."

Dinoire said she was eager to return home to her two daughters and get a job. Though she is still in the hospital, she said she has tested her new features in public.

"They look at me normally," she said of people's reactions.

Doctors have said they hoped Dinoire would break her smoking habit because it can lead to complications affecting her recovery.

"In hiding, she smokes cigarette after cigarette," Dubernard said, showing understanding for her behavior.

"Put yourself in her place for a second," he said. "It's extraordinarily stressful."