Off Beat Stories

Jan 21, 2010 1:02 PM by Meredith Land, NBC

Faceless man hopes for transplant

Dallas Wiens just wants to feel his daughter's kiss. Wiens, 24, suffered fourth-degree burns to his face when he touched a high-voltage power line -- and he lost all feeling to the face.

"I can get kisses from my daughter," he said, "but I can't feel them, and I can't kiss her back."

Wiens hopes to restore feeling through a face transplant -- a procedure successfully completed just twice in the U.S.

Weins' head touched the power line while working on a cherry picker at a Fort Worth church. It sent so much electricity through his body that doctors said he should have died. The voltage literally burned away Wiens' face, requiring doctors to use skin grafts to cover the area where his face once was.

"What he was left with is truly a skeleton or skull on top of a body," said Dr. Jeffrey Janis, a plastic surgeon at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. "The remarkable thing is that his brain was OK and the rest of his body was OK."

Wiens said he isn't afraid to face the public, but he wants feeling and muscle control in his face so that he can forge a closer relationship with his daughter, 3-year-old Scarlette.

"I had faith that God would see me through what happened and that allowed me to accept it -- and I knew that I had my daughter to come home to," Wiens said. "She's never cared that I'm disfigured. To her, I'm just Daddy."

Wiens' doctors are hopeful that he will be a candidate for the rare surgery, but admit that face transplantation is extremely risky.

"It's a transplant from another human, so you have to take medicines to keep your immune system suppressed so that you don't reject the transplant," said Janis.

The first U.S. face transplant was performed at the Cleveland Clinic on Connie Culp, a 46-year-old woman who was shot in the face by her husband in 2004. After more than 30 surgeries, doctors then replaced 80 percent of Culp's face in a 22-hour operation in December 2008 that restored much of her face.

Whatever happens, Wiens said he has big goals for the future.

"College, a degree, a real career," he said, "and being able to provide for my daughter and me."

 

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