FORT WORTH, Texas -- Dallas Wiens' fingertips danced around his new face in search of feeling.
"The sensation came back in my left cheek first," said the 26-year-old Fort Worth man. "It's kind of amazing, since that was the side that was most injured in the accident."
Wiens, whose face was destroyed in a 2008 electrical accident, received the nation's first full-face transplant three months ago in Boston. Although he returned home in early May, he sat down only this week for a series of interviews with local reporters.
"It's a little bit harder than I expected," Wiens said Wednesday of his extensive recovery process. "I don't have the stamina that I used to have before the transplant. The surgery took more of a toll on my body than I thought it would."
Wiens said he was sick in bed for the first six weeks after the landmark transplant. It could have been a reaction to the high doses of anti-rejection medication that were needed to suppress his immune system during a critical period after the transplant.
"I didn't feel better until four or five days before I left Boston," he said.
His weight dropped from his normal 125 pounds to 107. The loss was especially noticeable because the face, which was donated anonymously, had come from a man who weighed about 250 pounds.
After the transplant, the face was swollen from the surgery, but also because it carried more fat.
"As Dallas' body took on the face, he metabolized the fat away," said Sue Peterson, his grandmother. "It sounds like science fiction when you think about it."
His new face has become a more comfortable fit as Wiens' weight has crept up to 119 pounds. A slight drooping of skin on the right side of his mouth will improve with therapy, and some excess skin under his chin will likely be removed.
Next month, Wiens will return to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston for "nip-and-tuck" surgery that should make the face fit tighter, he said.
The transplant scar -- a visible halo that runs across the top of his head, just inside his ears to just behind his chin -- is noticeable, but not a crowd stopper.
Before the transplant, he had a smooth, featureless face that was crafted by surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
"People used to stare at me, but now it's because I walk with a white cane," said Wiens, who was blinded in the accident. "People have always been fairly good to me, even after the injury."
Doctors are surprised that Wiens has had no rejection episodes since the transplant.
"I don't know of any other case of a face transplant in the world that hasn't had a rejection," said Dr. Jeffrey Janis, who was Wiens' plastic surgeon after the accident three years ago.
"He's doing surprisingly well when you consider that important factor."
Also surprising has been the changes in the donor's hair, which had gray strands and a more course texture than Wiens'.
"There is no gray anymore, and it feels exactly the same as the rest of my hair. I guess my hormones took over," Wiens said, combing his hand through a healthy lock of dark brown hair.
Since May, Wiens has spent most of his time with his family, particularly his grandparents, Del and Sue Peterson, and his 4-year-old daughter, Scarlette, who share a home in east Fort Worth.
"She runs her hands across my face," he said. "I can feel her kisses. It's incredible."
Wiens' plans for college are on hold until he completes the recovery process, which could take a year or two.
He has not started intensive physical and occupational therapy to gain full control of the muscles in his face. The sessions have been delayed until UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, which is overseeing his recovery, finds specially trained therapists in Fort Worth to reduce Wiens' travel time.
"We have to find the right person who is trained to perform this therapy and comfortable doing it," Janis said.
Wiens said he expected to continue electrical stimulation therapy, in which nodes are attached to his face to transmit slight electrical pulses that would contact and move the nerves.
"This strengthens the muscles as well as speeds up the healing process," Wiens said. "I expect to gain full sensation in my face. I'm about halfway there."
Even without that complete control, Wiens said his face has never felt like a foreign object.
"It's my face since I woke up in the hospital," he said. "That's one of the reasons I did so well.
"It's me. This is who I am."
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