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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
'My face transplant saved me'
By Naomi Austin
Producer, Horizon

Isabelle Dinoire
Isabelle Dinoire doesn't regret her decision to have the operation

In November last year Isabelle Dinoire became the first person in the world to receive a face transplant.

Ten months after her operation, she is attempting to rebuild her life and there is no doubt how she feels about her new face:

"I have been saved. Lots of people write saying that I need to go on, that it's wonderful. It's a miracle somehow."

The doctors at Amiens University Hospital, who carried out the operation, are also delighted with her progress.

Today everyone agrees that the result is excellent and we were right to do what we've done
Dr Bernard Devauchelle, maxillofacial surgeon
In spite of some early signs of immune rejection, Isabelle has regained sensation back in the transplanted face.

This initial rejection of the new tissue has been brought under control by increasing the doses of immunosuppressant drugs which Isabelle will have to be on for the rest of her life.

The risks of taking this medication include an increased likelihood of cancer as well as a possible shortening of life, which some surgeons believe to be between 10 and 20 years.

In spite of the ethical questions that were raised about their decision to carry out the procedure, the doctors who operated on Isabelle are quick to defend their decision.


Dr Sylvie Testelin says: "Was it possible for her to live without a face?

"It's easy to say we shouldn't have done that, but her life has changed, she goes shopping, goes on holiday, she lives again.

"Before she couldn't live. Before she didn't recognise herself, she scared herself. One can't live like this."

Dr Bernard Devauchelle, the specialist maxillofacial surgeon who carried out the operation, adds: "There are a few people indeed who disagreed, perhaps because they were jealous because they were working on the subject and they thought they were in a better position to do the first one.

"But today everyone agrees that the result is excellent and we were right to do what we've done."

Last November, Isabelle Dinoire was rushed to hospital after her dog had mauled her and torn off her nose, lips and chin.

She herself has no memory of what happened. After taking sleeping pills, all she can remember is waking up with blood on the ground.

When she tried to light up a cigarette, she realised her nose, lips and chin were missing.

Landmark operation

With such severe injuries doctors offered Isabelle little hope that they would be able to repair the damage to her face using conventional surgery.

Shortly after being admitted, she came to the attention of Dr Devauchelle who, unlike other surgeons, believed there was an alternative: "We found ourselves saying, yes, it's clear this woman needs a transplant.

I was scared to look at myself
Isabelle Dinoire
"The only discussion we had was that maybe this idea was a bit mad, are we going to go on until the end?"

After consideration, Isabelle decided to opt for the landmark operation.

At the time she said, "Whatever happens it's a battle. I've made my choice. Even if I did an about-turn, the part that's missing would never come back."

And of the doctors that cared for her she said: "I trust them, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this."

After a 15-hour operation, Isabelle became the first person in the world to receive a face transplant.

Two days after the operation she saw her face in the mirror for the first time.

"Sylvie gave me the mirror. I was scared to look at myself, but when I did it was already marvellous and I couldn't believe it. I thought it would be blue and swollen but it was already beautiful."

face transplant
1 Triangle of skin and muscle tissue is cut away from donor's face
2 Blood vessels and nerves from face section are connected to recipient using microvascular surgery

Horizon: The World's First Face Transplant will be broadcast on Tuesday 17 October on BBC Two at 2100 BST.

Woman has first face transplant
30 Nov 05 |  Health
Q&A: Face transplant
16 Dec 05 |  Health


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