The latest issue of The New Yorker features the extraordinary telling of a tale with which you're perhaps quite familiar by now: how doctors gave a man from Fort Worth, Dallas Wiens, a new face. Alas, all that is available for now is the abstract accompanying Raffi Khatchadourian's story, which bears the headline "Transfiguration: How Dallas Wiens found a new face"; the rest must be paid for. Come on. You can do it.
The story, which spans some 20 pages, is a must-read. Liz Kowalczyk of the Boston Globe -- who has highlighted the story because, after all, it was Dr. Bohdan Pomahac of Brigham and Women's Hospital there who performed the nothing-short-of-miraculous surgery -- calls it "absorbing." For our purposes, we turn to the part of the story documenting Wiens's arrival at Parkland, shortly after Wiens came in contact with the high-voltage electrical wire at Ridglea Baptist Church in Fort Worth four years ago.
Brett Arndolo, UT Southwestern's specialist in burn and trauma surgery, tells Khatchadourian he couldn't believe Wiens had even survived the accident initially. And then it got only worse: The burn, so severe it had revealed skull, began to attack Wiens's face. And, writes Khatchadouria: "As the cells began to die off, doctors at Parkland raced to remove them, fearing that they would invite a fatal infection. The process, called debridement, is sometimes simple, requiring just a scalpel, and sometimes involves drills and chemicals." But doctors at Parkland found themselves removing everything just to keep him alive.
Surgeons are practiced in distancing their emotions from their work, but the invasiveness of the debridements affected them, too. "I have never been physically sick in the O.R.," Arndolo said. "But when I removed the mid-face -- the nose, the lips, the soft tissue around the eyes -- and carried those pieces of tissue to a back table, there was a moment where I felt like I could be physically ill. It was upsetting. You're taking his identity away."
In the end, of course, Wiens's story would have a happy ending, following the 17-hour surgery that took place one year ago next month. Per Weins's own website:
The transplant surgery was a complete success and Dallas has been regaining facial muscular control and sensation every day. He can not only feel his daughter's kisses, but he can feel the cool breeze on his skin and smell food and flowers; sensations that most of us take for granted.
Dallas now works tirelessly to be the best father and mentor he can be while showing others the possibility of accomplishing their dreams despite their circumstances.
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