A man suffering from the disfiguring disease portrayed in the movie, "The Elephant Man," has been transformed by surgeons who performed a full-face transplant on him.
With his once tumor-ridden face now transformed, Pascal Coler tells the News of the World that he hopes to find love for the first time at the age of 30.
"The operation has revolutionized my life," Coler said. "I can live as a normal human being for the first time. People in the street look at me very differently. They no longer stop and stare or shout cruel words. Instead I am accepted. I even dream of myself in my new face — and now I would love to find a wife, settle down and have children."
Coler spent 24 years disfigured by Von Recklinghausen's disease, a rare genetic disorder brought to the attention of the masses 100 years ago Joseph Merrick, nicknamed the Elephant Man and the subject of a 1980 movie of the same name.
Although British anthropologist Ashley Montagu said Merrick suffered from Von Recklinghausen's disease in his 1971 book, "The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity," others have speculated that Merrick may have suffered from elephantiasis or Proteus syndrome.
Coler was left unrecognizable as a toddler when bulbous tumors began engulfing his eyes, nose, and mouth with boil-encrusted, ulcerated skin.
Soon after his sixth birthday tumors began to grow on his face. "As things got worse I started to stay at home more and more," he said. "The tumors on my lips were so large and heavy it became very difficult to speak or eat.
"At school my classmates were made aware of my condition and never gave me any trouble at all," he continued. "But the trouble happened with strangers when I went to places where I was not well known.
"There were awful times. People would not just stop and stare, some could not bear to be near me. I became a recluse," he said.
A 16-hour operation helped bring him back a life he had not known since childhood — with the help of another human being's face and the skill of leading French surgeon Laurent Lantieri.
Pascal was lined up for the revolutionary operation after dog attack victim Isabelle Dinoire was given the world's first partial face transplant in 2005.
But he was told his procedure would be much more dangerous and that he could die because he needed the world's first full face transplant.
"It was not a question of using part of someone else's face to cover a wound, but of replacing one whole face with another," he said. "Professor Lantieri told me there was a very real possibility I would die in the (operation room) or afterwards if my body rejected the new face. He used a line from the film Apollo 13, ‘Failure is not an option.'"
Coler underwent surgery at Henri Mondor Hospital on the outskirts of Paris.
"When the anesthetist began to prepare me for surgery I was feeling elated," Coler said. "My chance had finally come. Even with the risk of dying, there was no question of me hesitating."
A year ago, Lanteiri picked up his scalpel and looked at the face which over the years had undergone 30 operations to remove tumors and carry out plastic surgery.
First he cut off all the growths before carefully filleting the rest of Pascal's face, cutting over the left eyebrow, across and under the right one, and then down and around in a complete oval.
Lantieri then had to lift the skin off and cut away flesh — some of it right down to the bone. He and his team painstakingly connected tissues, nerves, arteries and veins before sending him back to the ward.
"When I came too my new face was not in bandages, but it was heavily swollen," Coler said. "My first proper meal after the operation was mashed potato and turkey. It felt very odd as my face was still numb. I had no problem eating it all, though."
"The crucial three weeks after the operation went very smoothly, with no rejection scares," he said. "Then I was slowly able to recuperate, exercising my new muscles and facial features."
Now, a year after the operation, tests have showed that Coler is now completely free of the disease since the affected tissue was taken away.
He is about to start work as an accountant and hopes to find a wife and have children.