A man whose face was destroyed while saving a woman from a car accident can smile for the first time in a decade.
Mitch Hunter, a 30-year-old former Army private from Indianapolis was revealed Wednesday as the fourth person in the U.S. to receive a face transplant.
"It was a full face transplant, including the skin between the ears and from forehead to chin," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The man underwent the 14-hour operation last week, a surgical marathon during which doctors also transplanted his nose, lips and the nerves that allow for feeling and make facial expressions possible.
"So far, it's been excellent," Pomahac said. "He has already been discharged, and everything has gone smoothly."
The brave hoosier's family said they were grateful to the family of the boy who donated his face to their son.
"We respect and admire their courage and intend to honor them by continuing in their giving spirit," they aid.
The donor's family said his dying wish was that his organs be donated to help as many people as possible.
"When we heard that there was a match for his facial tissue, we were overwhelmed and did not hesitate to say yes," the boy's family said in a statement. "It is a gift to us to know that another young man's life could be so positively changed."
Hunter lost much of his face in a freak 2001 accident when the car he was riding in hit a telephone pole. As he pushed a live wire off the female driver, thousands of volts of electricity surged through his body, severely burning his face.
His operation came a month after a Texas man, Dallas Wiens, underwent a complete face transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The hospital has also done a partial transplant on James Maki, who fell face first on an electrified Boston subway rail.
While doctors are optimistic that Hunter will make a full recovery, he will require several more tune-up operations and be on drugs to prevent tissue rejection for the rest of his life.
The first successful face transplant operation was performed on a horribly disfigured woman at the Cleveland Clinic in December 2008.