Smiling Again

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson and Heather Nauert," December 13, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, CO-HOST: It's a "Big Talker," tonight. Remember those two years ago, French doctors stunned the globe by successfully performing the word's first-ever face transplant on a human. The groundbreaking surgery gave a woman named Isabelle someone else's face to place with her name after her own was mangled by her dog.

JOHN GIBSON, CO-HOST: Now, we're seeing brand new pictures and getting new reports on how Isabelle has been doing since then, and if she can smile again. "Big Story" correspondent, Douglas Kennedy has the pictures and the report for us now — Douglas.

DOUGLAS KENNEDY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John and Heather, doctors are happy to report she is able to smile again, though they admit, she has experienced unforeseen problems, complications that have some questioning whether the surgery is worth it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY (voice-over): In 2005, doctors in France replaced everything from this woman's cheek to her chin in what was the world's first partial face transplant.

DR JEAN-MICHEL DUBERNARD, FACE TRANSPLANT SURGEON: I think that we did, very simply, out job of doctors, we took care of the patient, who couldn't be treated otherwise.

KENNEDY: Now, two years later, the doctors are putting their stunning surgery on display with this new video that reveals both the upside and downside of the cosmetic accomplishment. They say surgery subject, Isabelle Dinoire, can now eat and drink, feel sensations on her face, then talk and smile, something doctors say she couldn't do after she was mauled by her dog.

DUBERNARD: Couldn't swallow, couldn't eat. She had a tube — a gastric tube. And you could — it was very difficult for her to speak.

KENNEDY: But many doctors remain skeptical of the surgery and it has only been reproduced twice, once in France and once in China. The French doctors admit there have been serious complications since the original surgery, including kidney failure, two episodes in which Isabelle's immune system tried to reject her new skin, as a result, she has had to take large quantities of immune-suppressing drugs and may have to remain on them for the rest of her life. It is a major problem American doctors are, right now, trying to solve with studies on cadavers.

DR MARIA SIEMIONOW, PLASTIC SURGERY SPECIALIST: New strategies to use minimal amounts of immunosuppressant drugs, which are needed after transplantation. And also, there were cadaver studies to look at the timing, feasibility of this technique.

KENNEDY: Dr. Maria Siemionow is the director of the Plastic Surgery Research at Cleveland Clinic. She says the face transplant procedure is a very serious operation with a huge amount of risk. Nonetheless, she is now going through a long list of applicants.

SIEMIONOW: There are patients who just want to get back their functions because many of them cannot feed themselves because they cannot open their mouths, the cannot sleep at night because they cannot close their eyes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KENNEDY: And just a little while ago I spoke with Dr. Siemionow, she says they now have 12 suitable candidates and that she could perform the surgery shortly. Which she says means, John and Heather, sometime in the next year.

NAUERT: So Douglas, we had been taking about this earlier, who needs them and how many people? Just 12?

KENNEDY: She says there are about 100 people and she says they are all very severely injured, that they have completely lost their faces either through burns or through accidents. There are critics who say they're simply doing this because it's cosmetic.

NAUERT: Cosmetic? They think somebody might actually...

KENNEDY: She says, well, oh, they would have to wear a bag over their head if they didn't have the surgery, but you know, the surgery is very difficult and has some complications.

NAUERT: It looks that...

GIBSON: Douglas Kennedy. Douglas, thank you.

NAUERT: Thanks.

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