Four years after a brush with a live power line seared off his face, Dallas Wiens received a new one from an anonymous donor, becoming the first person in America to receive a full face transplant.
In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian provides a meticulously detailed account of Wiens’s saga from his initial ambulance ride to his eighteen-hour transplant surgery to meeting his daughter for the first time with his new face.
Wiens, a construction worker from Fort Worth with a checkered past, was painting Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth when he hit the wire. “The electricity gripped his body, coursing through his head and the left side of his torso. For about fifteen seconds, ionized gas enveloped him in an azure nebula. The smell of an electrical burn hung in the air,” Khatchadourian writes.
Doctors at the burn unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital were shocked to see Wiens had survived. “People with that type of physical trauma rarely became patients. Usually, they died,” Khatchadourian writes.
Khatchadourian’s story is not for the squeamish, as it goes into great detail about how Wiens’ face had to be debrided after the burn. “After multiple trips to the operating room, he literally looked like a skull on top of a body. Everything was gone,” one of the surgeon’s told Khatchadourian. Flesh was taken from Wiens’ back and sides to create a covering for his skull. This gave Wiens an “immobile and featureless tableau of skin, a blank human canvas.” His eyes and nose were gone, leaving his mouth as the only orifice on his face.
When given the option of getting a realistic prosthetic mask or receiving a face transplant, Wiens ultimately went with the latter because he wanted sensation back in his face. So in 2011, surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston performed the transplant surgery, giving Wiens another face and something resembling a normal life.
Last month, Wiens appeared on “Good Morning America” to discuss his surgery. Watch Wiens at a press conference a month after his surgery: