PARIS – The French woman who received the world's first partial face transplant has complete feeling in the new tissue five months after the operation, she told a Sunday newspaper.
Isabelle Dinoire, 38, also told the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the hardest part of her recovery appears to be getting to know herself again.
When asked if she has accepted her new face, she responded: "It's too difficult to explain."
She takes out old photos and, shocked at the difference between her former face and her new one, tells herself that she simply has aged, she said.
Dinoire said her speech has improved as she has gained more facial mobility.
"The scars have considerably healed. The doctors are confident. In addition, I have recovered total feeling," Dinoire said.
The mother of two last spoke publicly in February, when she held a lengthy news conference with medical personnel in the northern town of Amiens, where her Nov. 27 operation took place.
Dinoire lost much of her face when she was mauled by her pet Labrador while knocked out from drugs she took to forget a trying week. Her lipless gums and teeth were permanently exposed, and most of her nose was missing.
Dinoire wore a surgical mask in public to avoid frightening people. During 15 hours of surgery, a team of doctors replaced the gaping hole in her face with a donor transplant that included a new nose, mouth and chin.
"Each day that passes, I think, above all, of the donor and her family whom I cannot thank enough," she told the newspaper. "We must not forget that today, thanks to them, I have become visible again."
Dinoire noted that her speech had improved. During the February news conference, her words were difficult to understand because her new mouth was frozen open.
Today, "I still have a little problem of mobility, symmetry as the doctors say."
She said the real difficulty was pronouncing sounds that use the lips, such as the "b" or "p" sounds.
Today, Dinoire still only leaves her apartment if accompanied and has not replaced the mirrors she removed from her home after the accident, she told the newspaper during an interview in a small room at the Amiens teaching hospital.
Each week, Dinoire visits the Amiens hospital for a battery of tests, re-education sessions and visits with a psychologist.
Each month, she travels to a hospital in Lyon, in southeast France, where she spent weeks after the operation receiving an anti-rejection treatment so her body would accept the new tissue. She undergoes more testing and has her treatment adjusted.
She now takes 10 pills a day, down from the original 20.
In addition, several times a day she must examine a small patch of skin from the donor on her stomach, a "sentinel ... that should sound the alarm if something goes wrong," she said.
She also has to do the same with her face, examining it in a magnifying mirror — the only mirror now in her home.