BOSTON — The nation's first full face transplant recipient said the first thing his young daughter told him when she saw him after the operation was "Daddy, you're so handsome."
Dallas Wiens (WEENS), sporting a goatee and dark sunglasses, joined surgeons Monday at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in his first public appearance since the 15-hour procedure in March.
"It feels natural," said the 26-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, man, who received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from an anonymous donor. "It feels as if it's my own." The operation was paid for by the U.S. military, which hopes to use findings from the procedure to help soldiers with severe facial wounds.
Wiens' features were all but burned away and he was left blind after hitting a power line while painting a church in November 2008.
Surgeons said the transplant was not able to restore his sight, and some nerves were so badly damaged from his injury that he will probably have only partial sensation on his left cheek and the left side of his forehead.
Wiens, who lost his sense of smell after the accident, said first thing he was able to smell after the surgery was lasagne. "It smelled delicious," he said Monday.
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In an Associated Press story and a YouTube video last fall, Wiens spoke poignantly about why he wanted a transplant and how he wanted to smile again and feel kisses from his daughter, Scarlette, who turns 4 next month. Face transplants give horribly disfigured people hope of an option other than "looking in the mirror and hating what they see," he said.
He told the AP that his daughter and his faith have kept him motivated.
The surgery was paid for by the Department of Defense, which gave the hospital a $3.4 million research grant for five transplants.
About a dozen face transplants have been done worldwide, in the U.S., France, Spain and China.
The Associated Press contributed to this report