July 26, 2006 (Boston) -- Nearly eight months to the day since undergoing the world's first partial face transplant, a French woman is smiling -- broadly.
The woman, Isabelle Dinoire, continues to improve more rapidly than expected, says Emmanuel Morelon, MD, PhD, a member of the Lyon-based team providing her follow-up care.
Morelon spoke at the World Transplant Congress 2006 here. In a talk peppered with dramatic before and after pictures, Morelon offered a glimpse of the recovery of Dinoire, 38, who was severely disfigured in May 2005 after a dog bite amputated part of her face.
French surgeons at Amiens University Hospital transplanted the nose, lips, cheeks, and chin of a brain-dead donor in a 15-hour operation on Nov. 27.
A Rapid Recovery
Dinoire started eating and drinking just one week after the operation, Morelon says. Her speech soon improved. By four months later, sensation had mostly returned.
At six months, the changes became even more dramatic. She could press her lips, which had been droopy, together. She could feel hot and cold sensations, even light touches.
Best of all, she could smile again, he says.
"She doesn't have complete movement, but it's very good," Morelon tells WebMD.
Dinoire is upbeat about her new image, he adds. Her social life is back to normal. Last week, she took a vacation in Italy.
"The very nice aesthetic results have led to good acceptance by the patient," he says, adding that the excellent outcomes could not have been achieved with traditional plastic surgery.
"Her face is more and more normal," Morelon says. "She's happy."
2 Rejection Episodes to Date
That's not to say her recovery has been easy.
Whenever someone receives tissue transplanted from another person, there's a risk of rejection.
Doctors give them drugs that suppress the immune system in an effort to prevent that from happening.
But they don't always work. And twice -- three weeks after the procedure, then just one month ago -- Dinoire suffered tissue rejection. Her new facial tissue swelled and turned red.
In both cases, temporarily increasing the doses of immune suppressing drugs resolved the problem.
Also last month, Dinoire developedsores, a common infection in transplant recipients, on her lips. Antiviral drug therapy brought the condition under control.