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Face transplant patient meets fellow pioneer

/ Source: The Associated Press

The woman who received a new nose, chin and lips in groundbreaking surgery last month had a warm chat with the man who was the world's first double hand transplant patient, a psychiatrist who has treated both of them said Friday.

Denis Chatelier, the Frenchman who received new hands in a January 2000 operation, offered the woman encouragement at a meeting held discreetly Thursday to avoid media scrutiny, Dr. Daniele Bachmann said. Because of privacy laws, the woman can be identified only as Isabelle.

"I think they really clicked," Bachmann said in an interview with The Associated Press at her office in this southwestern city.

In revealing last week that he had accepted a request from Isabelle for a meeting, Chatelier told AP that he needed two years to adjust to his transplant enough to be able to say "my hands" instead of "the hands."

Bachmann said, however, that Isabelle has adapted more quickly since undergoing the world's first partial face transplant Nov. 27. She said the 38-year-old woman is "very happy" with her new features, and already has some feeling and some facial movement.

"Something that we imagine to be much more complicated turns out to be — not more simple — but faster" to accept, the doctor said.

Bachmann, who has treated between 40 and 50 transplant patients in her career, said it is natural to assume it would be harder to accept a new face than new hands, because facial features are so wrapped up in one's identity. But that was not so in this case, she said.

Isabelle retained her bone structure, her own tongue and her eyes, allowing her to feel familiarity despite the new additions. She could only see the transplanted features when looking at a mirror. Chatelier, in contest, could see his new hands constantly.

For months after the operation, Chatelier also was not able to use his hands, leaving him dependent on others.

Isabelle, however, is finding the media glare tougher to handle than Chatelier did, Bachmann said. "For the moment, Isabelle wants great discretion," said the psychiatrist, who sees Isabelle several times a week.

A divorced mother of two, Isabelle received her new nose, chin and lips from a brain-dead donor, and she often talks about how grateful she is to the donor and her family, Bachmann said. Isabelle was disfigured earlier this year when mauled by her dog.

Isabelle, who is recuperating in a Lyon hospital, was warned that it might be difficult to accept other people's reactions to her new face.

She is not wearing bandages and her scars are growing fainter, and so far people's reactions have not been an issue, Bachmann said.

"She was astonished, in fact, that it hasn't been a problem."

Both Isabelle and Chatelier underwent operations by Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, a celebrity surgeon who has been heavily criticized since the face transplant.

Some doctors accused him of rushing into with a radical and untested procedure instead of relying on classic reconstructive surgery when the situation was not urgent.