Dallas Wiens was painting a Texas church in 2008 when the cherry picker in which he was riding came in contact with a high-voltage power line. The damage was catastrophic. As local doctors soon realized, the young construction worker had basically lost his face.
“Electrical burns can have an oddly mercurial impact on the human body. They can devastate tissue immediately, or they can have no effect at all, or they can have a delayed effect. The period of limbo can last days, and during that time doctors must wait for each cell in the affected area to ‘declare itself ‘ living or dead. Soon enough, the cells throughout Wiens’ face began declaring themselves dead in a steady cascade, laying waste to skin, muscle, and bone,” we read in The New Yorker.
“What resulted was not quite a face: smooth, undifferentiated skin travelled from above Wiens’s hairline down to a slit where the remainder of his mouth was.”
In May 2011, at Harvard-affiliated Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, Wiens became the first US recipient of a full face transplant. Cutting-edge techniques, technology, and the face of an anonymous donor were essential to complete the 19-hour procedure, which — it was hoped — would eventually restore sensation and muscle movement to Wiens.
“He was quite literally a man without a face,” said one of his doctors at a post-surgery press conference, as reported by the Harvard Gazette.
At the press conference, Wiens marveled at the joy of being able “to feel a kiss again after two and a half years. … I’m only 26 years old, so there’s a lot of life left to live.”
Last weekend, Wiens celebrated the latest milestone in his rare journey: Charlie, the Golden Retriever who now serves as his leader dog.
“It’s much easier to walk with Charlie than to walk with a cane. It’s a lot easier to notice obstacles and move around them. He’s actually trained to walk me around different things, any obstacles that are in my path,” Wiens announced last Sunday, as reported by NBC Dallas-Fort Worth.
Wiens has Charlie in his life thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Southlake Lions Club in Southlake, TX. The club held a “Ride for the Blind” last October with more than a hundred riders participating and Wiens in attendance. The Lions Club has a long history of providing blind people all over the U.S. with service dogs; the Lions Leader Dog Foundation was launched in 1939.
Situations such as this one hammer home ever more clearly the difference between real service dogs and fake service dogs. For people who truly need them, trained service dogs bring independence, freedom, and connection to fellow humans. Every untrained dog that is unlawfully brought into a restaurant or bus under the “service dog” guise dims the honor of real service dogs.
“To see the good of humanity, to see the heart of humanity, was humbling,” Wiens said last Sunday as Charlie posed alert and energetic beside him.