First face recipient experiences physical, emotional rebirth

September 1, 2007

Paris - Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who received the world's first partial face transplant in late 2005 after she was mauled by her dog, is progressing excellently, according to her physician.

Paris - Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who received the world's first partial face transplant in late 2005 after she was mauled by her dog, is progressing excellently, according to her physician.

Ms. Dinoire, now 40, has had no rejection episodes for a year, and has a nearly complete range of motion in her transplanted tissue, says Benoit Lengele, M.D., co-leader of the team that performed the transplant and professor of anatomy and reconstructive surgery, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.

"Interestingly," he says, "new motions restored around the lips involve the orbicularis muscular sling responsible for oral closure, as well as active separate contractions arising from both levator or depressor antagonistic muscles, giving rise to an impressive range of potential facial expressions."

According to news accounts of an article in Le Monde, to which Ms. Dinoire granted an interview this summer, her lips were meeting normally when she spoke and her diction was near-perfect.

Another account says the 15-hour surgery's scars have faded to barely noticeable red lines easily concealed by makeup.

However, the transplant's psychological impact appears equally profound, these accounts say.

With her new face, Ms. Dinoire is quoted as telling Le Monde, "I am back in the world of humans, those who have a face, a smile, facial expressions which allow them to communicate."

She also said she felt a "great responsibility" to the doctors who performed the procedure and the anonymous car crash victim who donated her face, according to news reports.

"Not a day goes by when I don't think of her," Ms. Dinoire is quoted as saying. "My only hope is that her family knows how grateful I am. She gave me a second chance."

However, Ms. Dinoire continues to struggle with issues of identity, according to news accounts. The new face "isn't me," she is quoted as saying.

She told Le Monde, at first, she constantly looked at herself in the mirror, searching for traits of her previous face, and said she "couldn't bear" to look at old photographs.

But now, she says, she has integrated the transplant. She is used to her new face and no longer needs to look at old photos.

Despite the fear that her body still could reject the transplant, and despite the two rejection episodes she has already overcome, Ms. Dinoire says she is ready to move on, according to news reports.

She now desires to return to "a normal life" and to find work. "I have the right to quietly rebuild my life," she is quoted as saying.