AMIENS, France – The French woman who made medical history as the recipient of a partial face transplant appeared at a press conference Monday, telling the world she was grateful for the operation, a day after she ventured into public in her hometown for the first time.
"I now have a face like everyone else," Isabelle Dinoire said as she addressed the press for the first time since her groundbreaking surgery in November. "A door to the future is opening."
In speech that was heavily slurred, she explained how she was mauled by a dog last year and thanked the family of the donor who gave her new lips, a chin and nose.
A circular scar was still visible where the face tissue was attached in the 15-hour operation in Amiens.
Dinoire, still unable to wear makeup, had already been out in public in both Lyon and Amiens, where Drs. Bernard Devauchelle and Jean-Michel Dubernard performed the transplant.
She appeared to still have great difficulty moving or even closing her mouth, which often hung open. But she said that she was regaining sensation.
"I can open my mouth and eat. I feel my lips, my nose and my mouth," she said. During the news conference, while one of her surgeons was speaking, she lifted a cup to her lips and appeared to drink.
In terms of coloring, the match between her own skin and the graft was remarkable.
She said she was pursuing physical therapy and noted that she will have to continue taking drugs to stop her body from rejecting the donated tissue. Yet, she looked forward to the future and said she is eager to return home.
"I expect to resume a normal life ... I pay homage to the donor's family," she said. "My operation could help others to live again."
Dubernard said they want "to give this operation to many, many other people in France and in the world."
The surgeons defended their decision to go ahead with the untried procedure, saying they repeatedly warned Dinoire about the risks involved. The doctors said they could not say for sure how long the transplanted tissue might stay alive.
Dinoire, a divorced mother of two teenage daughters, spoke frankly about the attack in May by her Labrador. She said she was passed out when the dog mauled her and that she did not immediately realize the extent of her disfigurement when she awoke.
"When I woke up, I tried to light a cigarette, and I didn't understand why I couldn't hold it between my lips," she said.
"I looked at myself in the mirror, and there, horrified, I couldn't believe what I saw — especially because it didn't hurt. Ever since this day, my life has changed."
She also explained the difficulties of life with disfigurement, saying she suffered stares when she went out.
"I understand all people who have a handicap," she said.
She said she "accepted immediately" when her surgeons suggested the transplant. But the procedure did not restore the way she looked before the dog bit her.
"There's no comparison between the face I have today and the face I had seven months ago," she said. "It is totally different."
Doctors have said they hoped Dinoire would break her smoking habit because it can lead to complications affecting her recovery.