Face Transplant Patient Makes First Media Appearance

BBC producer Grainne Harrington talks to Melissa Block about the first public media appearance of Isabelle Dinoire, the French woman who received a partial face transplant in November. Harrington joins us from Amiens, France, near the hospital where the transplant was performed.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The woman who received the world's first partial face transplant held a news conference for the first time today. Isabelle Dinoire told reporters she was grateful to again have, in her words, a face like everyone else. Dinoire received the lips, chin, and nose of a brain dead female donor at a hospital in Amiens, France in November. She had been mauled by her dog six months before. BBC producer Grainne Harrington was at the news conference at the hospital in Amiens. Thanks for being with us.

Ms. GRAINNE HARRINGTON (Producer, BBC): Thank you.

BLOCK: And tell us first how Ms. Dinoire looked today.

Ms. HARRINGTON: Well, she came in very quietly from the back of the room, in contrast to the pomp and circumstance at which her surgeons entered. I think the atmosphere of the room was one of, almost of relief because she looked remarkably ordinary. From a distance one could actually never have guessed that she had gone through such traumatic facial surgery. Close up you could see quite large scars running along her cheeks and over her nose but from a distance she looked fine.

BLOCK: And how was her speech?

Ms. HARRINGTON: Her speech was rather slowed. Her lower lip dropped a little bit and she still obviously has trouble articulating.

BLOCK: Was there facial expression? Was she able to move her facial muscles?

Ms. HARRINGTON: She could move her face, yes. She could, she could smile and you could still see very clear expressions. She was asked after the conference if she could express emotion, if she could laugh without pain, and she said yes I can laugh without pain. I can smile, I can grimace. I can express myself, and I feel like this is my face. I feel like I've claimed it for myself.

BLOCK: What other treatment or rehabilitation will Ms. Dinoire go through now?

Ms. HARRINGTON: She's having physiotherapy every day in order to tighten up her facial muscles so that, for example, she can speak properly and she can eat properly. At the moment she has slurred speech and she has difficulty, but with the tightening of the muscles around the mouth she will be able to speak completely normally again.

BLOCK: And she'll be taking immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life, I think.

Ms. HARRINGTON: For the rest of her life, yes. This is one of the biggest dangers because it's, obviously her immune system is going to be seriously comprised by this.

BLOCK: Did Isabelle Dinoire talk about what it felt like to have a face that was at least partially not hers?

Ms. HARRINGTON: Yes, they asked her at the end of the conference. They said, how does your face compare? And she said, there is no comparison at all. It has changed beyond all recognition.

BLOCK: It has been reported since the transplant surgery, that Ms. Dinoire has once again taken up smoking, which could increase the risk of complications. What did the doctors say about that?

Ms. HARRINGTON: Well obviously the doctors say it was a risk, although when asked about this herself, she said that, that I feel this is inaccurate because she had never quit smoking. So she is claiming her right to live her life as she did before.

BLOCK: And I understand the doctors are now talking about other potential face transplants that they are interested in performing.

Ms. HARRINGTON: Apparently they have five patients lined up ready to take this surgery. So they are very much forging ahead with this. They said that the problem was not the actual physical surgery, it was the ethical and media flurry that surrounded the whole thing. It was not so much a question of technique. So now they have sensed a success, they said they needed this success and now they have five more people ready to go.

BLOCK: Grainne Harrington thanks very much.

Ms. HARRINGTON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's BBC producer Grainne Harrington who was at the hospital in Amiens, France today, where the woman who received the world's first partial face transplant held a news conference.

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