In May 2005, Isabelle Dinoire took sleeping pills after a tough week to help her rest. While she was unconscious, her pet Tania, a Labrador cross breed, attacked her face, shredding her nose, mouth, and chin.
The CHU hospital in northern France where Dinoire had her transplant has just recently announced Dinoire’s death back in April. They chose to keep the death secret for some months to protect the privacy of the family.
Dinoire underwent surgery on November 27, 2005. Professor Bernard Devauchelle, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon led a team of surgeons to transplant Maryline St. Aubert’s face onto Dinoire.
From the beginning Dinoire was hesitant about taking on another woman’s face. She even wrote in her diary, “I often asked about the donor. To return a body to her family without a face—it was an atrocious image in my mind.”
After the transplant, Dinoire was determined to relearn how to speak, eat, and even kiss. However, her body began to reject the transplant, causing doctors to increase the doses of the immunosuppressants she had to take.
Isabelle Dinoire three months, and then a year after her surgery
Transplant patients must take immunosuppressants to lower the risk of having their bodies reject the transplant. They are thought to leave the patient more susceptible to cancer.
Isabelle did relearn to smile a year after her surgery, though she regularly suffered graft rejections. And the psychological repercussions caused Dinoire to avoid photographs and mirrors. In 2008, Dinoire said, “It’s not hers, it’s not mine, it’s somebody else’s. Before the operation, I expected my new face would look like me but it turned out after the operation that it was half me and half her.”
Now, some doctors, like Dr. Meningaud of Henri Mondor Hospital, are calling for a halt in facial transplants. “The results were very good in the medium term, but the long term results were not so good.”
Dinoire’s hospital did not issue many details about her death but it is believed a recent transplant rejection left her without feeling in her lips and caused two types of cancer, which is thought to be the cause of death.