Dallas Wiens, the nation's first full face transplant recipient, talked Monday about once again being able to smell and breathe through his nose, his hope for eyesight one day and his daughter's reaction to the surgery.
His appearance was the first since Wiens, 26, received a new nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves from an unidentified dead person in March.
"Being able to smell again is an amazing thing after two and a half years of not being able to. It's interesting what you pick up on. The ability to breathe through my nose normally -- and that in itself was a major gift," Wiens said. "Nobody was sure if I was going to be able to smell again, or even if I could how well it was going to work. But the olfactory nerves were completely intact as if there were no injury to begin with."
When asked what were his favorite smells so far, Wiens, sporting dark glasses and a goatee, joked that, to his surprise, he loved the smell of the hospital's lasagna but that fresh flowers were his favorite.
"The first thing I was able to smell was hospital lasagna. And, you wouldn't imagine it, but it smelled delicious," Wiens said. "But my favorite smell -- hibiscus. The smell of plant life again, to know that I could smell a rose or anything like that again -- it really hit home for me."
Wiens' features were all but burned away and he was blinded after hitting a power line while painting a church in November 2008.
He said his 4-year-old daughter Scarlette told him, "Daddy, you're so handsome" after she saw his new face.
His grandparents took her to Boston when he was recovering from the surgery.
"She knows it's miraculous, and she really loved the whiskers," said Sue Peterson, Wiens' grandmother
"She told someone, 'I just love Daddy's new face,'" said Del Peterson, Wiens' grandfather.
While Wiens was quick to express his incredible gratitude to the doctors and staff of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, where the surgery was performed, he was also quick to credit his faith in God for helping him get through some incredibly difficult times.
"My faith ... has been a great help to me," Wiens said. "That, in itself, has gotten me though so many things, from leaning on a strength that is not my own. Even though I'm in amazing hands here, I'm also in God's hands. That alone has been a vast help to me."
Doctors said they were excited by his progress and are anxious about the next few months, when they expect Wiens to take great strides in his ability to control the muscles in his new face.
"I think the most fun part is to see the next six, nine months when the function will start to come back and when Dallas will start to feel light touch on his face and starts to move his face and lips. That's really exciting," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, plastic surgeon and director of the Brigham and Women's Hospital Burn Center.
Wiens is currently blind. He lost his left eye in the accident, and his right eye isn't able to perceive light.
Even though medical science doesn't have a solution for Wiens' blindness today, he and doctors said they are hopeful for the future.
"It's an amazing feeling to know that there will be a time where everything will be normal again, and I won't have to be concerned about anything," said Wiens. "Even though I don't see right now, as Dr. Pomahac said, we're hopeful that in the future, medical science will progress in that field. I'm only 26 years old. I've got a lot of life left to live."
Wiens and his daughter live with his grandparents. Del Peterson traveled with him to Boston for the surgery and was the first person besides doctors to see his new face.
"The more I studied Dallas from day to day, I said, 'This is Dallas,'" Peterson said. "His face soon became what I recognized as Dallas."
He and his wife said the radical surgery was a dream come true.
"We want him to feel accepted and liked wherever he is and, actually, when anyone gets to know him, they like him," Sue Peterson said.
The Petersons said their grandson was never bitter about his injury but chose instead to be better, paving the way for others.
"He does not call it and doesn't want to call it an accident," Del Peterson said. "He says things happen for a reason, and this is not an accident."
Wiens' 15-hour operation was paid for by the U.S. military, which wants to use what is learned to help soldiers with severe facial wounds. About a dozen face transplants have been done worldwide.
The Associated Press' Russell Contreras and NBC DFW's Meredith Land contributed to this report.
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