Janis' PLS Lecture to recount challenging facial reconstruction

By Jan Jarvis

Lessons learned – about facial reconstruction, transplantation, and tenacity – will be the focus of the next President’s Lecture titled “Never Give Up: the First U.S. Face Transplant” by Dr. Jeffrey Janis at 4 p.m. on April 18 in the Tom and Lula Gooch Auditorium.  

Dr. Jeffrey Janis will speak April 18 at the next President’s Lecture about the complex surgeries the UTSW team performed leading up to Dallas Wiens’ full-face transplant.
Dr. Jeffrey Janis will speak April 18 at the next President’s Lecture about the complex surgeries the UTSW team performed leading up to Dallas Wiens’ full-face transplant.

During his presentation, Dr. Janis, Associate Professor of Plastic Surgery at UT Southwestern who also leads the department’s residency training programs, plans to give a behind-the-scenes look at how the team maneuvered through new territory in an effort to reconstruct the face of Dallas Wiens, who eventually became the nation’s first full-face transplant recipient.

The first time Dr. Janis examined Mr. Wiens in 2008, he wondered how he possibly could reconstruct a face so badly damaged. Fourth-degree burns had left Mr. Wiens with a mass of unrecognizable tissue. His injuries presented Dr. Janis, also Chief of Plastic Surgery at Parkland Hospital, with the most challenging and rewarding case of his career. Not only did it force him to push the limits of reconstructive surgery, it also taught him a valuable lesson about the power of the human spirit.

“I learned never to give up,” Dr. Janis said, “whether you’re the physician or the patient.”

After 22 reconstructive surgeries by Dr. Janis, Mr. Wiens had a featureless face with no nose or eye sockets.

“But he was alive,” Dr. Janis said. “He walked out of the hospital and that, in and of itself, is a miracle.”

It was one of many miracles for Mr. Wiens. In March 2011, a team of more than 30 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, and residents at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston worked for more than 15 hours to replace his face, including the nose, lips, skin, muscles, and nerves. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, Director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, led the transplant team.

For Dr. Janis, Mr. Wiens’ journey is a reminder of the power of perseverance and the importance of pushing the limits.

“Innovation can breach new frontiers,” Dr. Janis said. “And restore people’s lives and hopes.”

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