Updated Mon. Feb. 6 2006 10:45 PM ET

'Isabelle' holds a press conference on Monday, February 6, 2006.

'Isabelle' holds a press conference on Monday, February 6, 2006.

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Face transplant woman goes public for first time

CTV.ca News Staff

The French woman who received a new nose, chin and mouth in a groundbreaking transplant operation appeared before the cameras of the world's media for the first time Monday.

"I now have a face like everyone else," Isabelle Dinoire told reporters in the northeastern city of Amiens, France, saying she has come to accept her new appearance.

Her speech was heavily slurred and hard to understand, but Dinoire told how a dog bite left her disfigured and she thanked the family of the brain-dead female donor from Lille who gave her a new face.

"I want to resume a normal life," she said. "I pay homage to the donor's family ... my operation could help others to live again."

Fine scar lines ran from her nose over her cheekbones down to her jaw and she appeared to have difficulty closing her mouth. She told reporters that she was slowly gaining feeling in the new tissue.

"I can open my mouth and eat. I feel my lips, my nose and my mouth," she said.

At one point in the news conference, she appeared to be taking a sip of water from a cup. Later, while laughing, she was able to slightly lift a corner of her mouth but could not form a full smile. When she spoke, her lips did not move.

However, the colour match between her own skin and the graft was exact.

Her doctors said Dinoire has difficulty pronouncing letters like 'b' and 'p,' but they expect her to be more able to purse her lips with time. She is also pursuing physical therapy and will continue to take drugs to prevent her body from rejecting the donated tissue.

Dinoire, 38, has been travelling back and forth between the hospital in Amiens -- where the world's first partial face transplant was carried out over 15 hours on Nov. 27 -- and the southeastern city of Lyon, where she continues to receive further treatment.

A divorced mother of two teenage daughters, she was previously identified only as Isabelle because of French privacy laws.

Making her first public appearance at Amiens Teaching Hospital, Dinoire also spoke of the difficulties of life with disfigurement, saying she was often stared at when she went out.

"I understand all people who have a handicap," she told reporters, before adding that the procedure in no way restored the way she looked before she was bitten.

"There's no comparison between the face I have today and the face I had seven months ago, it is totally different," she said.

Her doctors, who also attended the news conference, said they have asked French health authorities for permission to perform another five face transplants.

Doctor Jean Michel Dubernard said they want "to give this operation to many, many other people in France and in the world."

The surgeons defended their decision to go ahead with the untried procedure, saying they repeatedly warned Dinoire about the risks involved. The doctors said they could not say for sure how long the transplanted tissue might stay alive.

To their dismay however, Dinoire has once again taken up smoking, despite warnings the habit can lead to complications affecting her recovery.

"In hiding, she smokes cigarette after cigarette," Dubernard said, but seemed understanding of her behaviour. "Put yourself in her place for a second. It's extraordinarily stressful."

Dinoire lost her nose, both lips and her chin after she was mauled by her Labrador retriever while she slept in May last year.

She spoke frankly about the attack, saying it had been a very difficult week which she tried to "forget" by taking drugs. She said she woke up from passing out to find a pool of blood and her dog sitting beside her.

"When I woke up, I tried to light a cigarette, and I didn't understand why I couldn't hold it between my lips," she said. "I looked at myself in the mirror, and there, horrified, I couldn't believe what I saw -- especially because it didn't hurt. Ever since this day, my life has changed."

The dog was later put down, against the family's wishes.

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