Donor for world's first face transplant had hanged herself

The donor whose features were used for the world's first face transplant had committed suicide just hours before the operation.

As Isabelle Dinoire, 38, the recipient mauled by her pet labrador, was eating strawberries and chocolate yesterday following the operation, it emerged that the source of her new nose, lips and chin had hanged herself.

The woman, also 38, was brain dead when she arrived at a hospital in Lille last weekend, at which point preparations for the groundbreaking surgery began.

Her family gave consent for the operation.

Ms Dinoire was given her new start in a 15-hour procedure that ended on Monday morning. Speaking yesterday for the first time since the operation, she said: "I am very grateful to this woman. I thank her family for giving their permission for this operation. I thank them from the bottom of my heart."

She had suffered her appalling injuries after she lost consciousness following an overdose of sleeping tablets, which she has now confirmed was an attempt on her own life. Her dog, which has been destroyed, is thought to have been trying to revive her.

Now recovering from the surgery in the Eduard Herriot hospital in Lyons, she has been able to admire the work of the surgeons who had to ensure a match for skin tone and quality.

"I have been looking at my face in the mirror. It is very impressive. They have given me my face back," she told The Sunday Times.

The unmarried woman, who has two children, has some movement in her face, but any sensation could take many months. Doctors have warned that there is still a risk of the new skin not taking, and it will need to be monitored closely for up to six months and treated with anti-rejection drugs.

If rejection does occur, the new skin would have to be removed completely, but the team has said it would perform the procedure again in that situation.

Prior to her surgery, Ms Dinoire had to wear a mask in public because of her shocking appearance, which led to teasing by those who saw her who assumed she was obsessed with germs. The injuries meant that she had trouble eating, breathing and talking with her lips completely absent. She had been on a waiting list for the surgery since August.

Medical teams have revealed that they are already competing to be the first to attempt a full-face transplant. Surgeons are now considering how they could develop the technique to give a patient a completely new face.

Ethical and medical concerns have delayed plans to attempt such an operation. But a team at the Royal Free Hospital in London is planning to attempt a full-facial transplant, as is the Cleveland Clinic in the US.

The French surgeons who performed Ms Dinoire's surgery denied suggestions that they had been rushing to perform the operation to claim a world first.

"As doctors, if we have the possibility to improve [the condition of] our patient, that is what we do," said Dr Jean-Michel Dubernard, the team leader who performed a controversial hand transplant in September 1998. He said he initially had doubts about performing such an operation but when he first saw her face he realised there was no other option.

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