Face transplant patient says she looks ‘like everyone else’

AMIENS, France (AP) – 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 brain-dead female 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.”

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.

Doctors said Dinoire had trouble saying letters like b and p that require pursing her lips, but they expect some improvement over time.

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.

The doctors also said they have asked French health authorities for permission for five more similar transplants. Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard said they wanted “to give this operation to many other people in France and in the world.”

Dubernard noted that Dinoire overcame an episode of rejection in the third week after the surgery and said her recent biopsies were “very satisfying.”

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