Massachusetts man says face transplant a "blessing"

May 21, 2009 2:30:40 PM PDT
The nation's second face transplant patient is thankful for a renewed life.

59-year-old James Maki, of Massachusetts, met reporters at a news conference this morning, shortly before leaving Brigham and Women's hospital, where he received the new face during a 17-hour operation on April 9.

Maki's face was severely burned n June 2005 when he fell onto the electrified third rail at a Boston subway station.

He says for years, people would recoil when they saw him.

He never wavered from the operation, even when told of the risks, because he wanted a normal life.

Maki said that 4 days after the surgery, he asked for a mirror to see what he calls "the new Jim."

When he got the mirror, he stared, telling transplant surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, "My first thought - my nose looks exactly the same as my own nose."

Not only did the nose match, but so did the complexion colors of the donor and recipient.

Maki said, "I just appreciate that I have a chance to start a new life. The first part of my life was nothing but trouble. So I am just glad I can start over," he told reporters.

Maki, the son of a University of Massachusetts administrator, served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. There, he became addicted to drugs. The addiction continued for a time after he returned to the U.S., but he is no longer a drug user.

Susan Whitman Helfgot, the wife of the donor, was also at the news conference.

Joseph Helfgot was the son of Auschwitz survivors who became a movie marketing guru.

She says some good came out of her husband's untimely death during heart transplant surgery.

"Joseph's life ended in vain, too soon. But, not really. Because it's been my great joy now to meet Jim, for him to be able to breathe, and speak, and eat on his own for the first time in four years. It is a miracle. And it's a blessing, " she said.

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