The Frenchwoman who made medical history as the recipient of a partial face transplant gave the world its first look at the results on Monday.
"I now have a face like everyone else," Isabelle Dinoire said at her first news conference since the groundbreaking surgery in November.
The more she can smile and grimace, Dinoire said, the more she feels it really is her face, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Cobbe (audio).
In speech that was heavily slurred, she explained how she was disfigured by a dog bite last year and thanked the family of the donor who gave her new lips, a chin and a nose.
Her severe injuries made speech, even eating, hugely difficult.
Before the 15-hour surgery in Amiens on Nov. 27, her lipless gums and teeth were permanently exposed, and most of her nose was missing. Food dribbled from her mouth. She wore a surgical mask in public to avoid frightening people.
At Monday's news conference, a circular scar was still visible where the face tissue was attached in the 15-hour operation on Nov. 27 in Amiens.
It was a remarkable and composed appearance by the woman, who underwent this extraordinary surgery a little more than two months ago, reports
Dinoire appeared to still have great difficulty moving or even closing her mouth, which often hung open. But in terms of coloring, the match between her own skin and the graft was remarkable.
She thanked the family of the donor, whose heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys were distributed to other patients.
"Despite their pain and mourning, they accepted to give a second life to people in need," Dinoire said. "Thanks to them, a door to the future is opening for me and others."
The 38-year-old mother of two said she was eager to return home to her teenage daughters and find a job.
"I want to have a normal life again," she said.
Dinoire's doctors said they have asked French health authorities for permission for five more similar transplants. Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard said they wanted "to give this operation to many other people in France and in the world."
Dinoire, still hospitalized for physical therapy, said she was regaining sensation and that she was not in any pain.
"I can open my mouth and eat. I feel my lips, my nose and my mouth," she said.
She'll be on drugs for the rest of her life to prevent her body from rejecting the transplanted tissue, but the surgery is consider a technical success.
"There wasn't an eye or a camera that wasn't focused right on her when she took that first sip of water," reports Roth.
Dinoire spoke frankly about the horrific attack in May by her pet Labrador. She said she was wrestling with personal problems at the time, had had a trying week, and "took some drugs to forget," which knocked her out.
"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. "That's when I saw the pool of blood and the dog next to me. 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."
Her disfigurement would draw stares when she went outside, she said, adding: "I understand all people who have a handicap."
Dinoire said she "accepted immediately" when her surgeons suggested the transplant. But the procedure has been unable to restore the way she looked before the dog bit her.
"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 surgeons — who have been heavily criticized for going ahead with a radical, untested procedure without trying traditional reconstruction first — defended their decision point-by-point and said they repeatedly warned Dinoire about the risks.
Dubernard noted that Dinoire overcame an episode of rejection in the third week after the surgery and said her recent biopsies were "very satisfying."
"But as it's the first (transplant of its kind), we absolutely cannot make a prognostic for the future," Dubernard said. He added that he hoped the graft would remain healthy for at least six years — the amount of time since he carried out the world's first double hand transplant. That patient is still very happy with his transplant: He has about 80 percent use of his hands and can eat, write and use the telephone.
Dinoire has continued smoking — a habit Dubernard said he hoped she would break, as it can lead to complications.
"Tobacco in itself does not carry risks of rejection .... but it is a factor that can aggravate things," he said, adding that "in hiding, she smokes cigarette after cigarette."
Dubernard said he was sure she would stop in the weeks or months ahead but showed understanding. "Put yourself in her place for a second," he said. "It's extraordinarily stressful."
There are huge physical, psychological and emotional hurdles still ahead for Dinoire, made all the more difficult by the fact that there is such intense medical and public curiosity about her case. She will be telling her story in a book and a movie, according to her lawyer, and she says her hope is that it, like her life, has a happy ending.