The French woman who received the world's first face transplant 18 months ago said Friday she felt reborn, but admitted she still looks at herself in the mirror with a combination of sadness and wonder.
"I am back in the world of humans, those who have a face, a smile, facial expressions which allow them to communicate. And I am alive again," Isabelle Dinoire, 40, said in an interview published in Saturday's edition of Le Monde.
But the single mother, whose nose, lips and chin were bitten off by her dog while she was under the influence of sleeping pills in 2005, said she was struggling to deal with her new identity and the debt she owed her donor.
"One part of me and my identity has disappeared forever, and I guard preciously the memory of what I was," she was quoted as saying.
"This face ... it isn't me. It will never be me. I often look at myself in the mirror. At first I used to do it all the time, searching for my traits from before, and I couldn't look at my old photographs -- it was too painful.
"Now I'm used to it. I don't have the need to look at my old photos... I've integrated the transplant, it's not a problem."
Le Monde did not publish a new photograph of Dinoire, but described her face as "harmonious" with an "incredible normality." Her lips were meeting normally when she spoke and her diction was "almost perfect," it said.
Dinoire said she had worked hard to learn to move her new face, concentrating on her lips and speech therapy. She described the "incredible" feeling of sensations returning like "electricity" as her nerves grew back.
"Over six months I recovered my facial mobility quite well. I still have a lot of exercises to do ... but what a victory," she said.
She said she felt a "great responsibility" not just to the doctors who performed the unprecedented operation on November 27, 2005, but to the young woman who donated her face.
"I feel a great responsibility, for me and my family, for the medical teams ... and for the donor's family," she said.
"Not a day goes by when I don't think of her," she said of the anonymous donor. "She is constantly on my mind. It's too hard to explain. My only hope is that her family knows how grateful I am. She gave me a second chance."
Since Dinoire's operation several other face transplants have been performed, including another one in France and one in China. She said she wanted to raise awareness about organ donation.
"I met the Chinese surgeon who did the second face transplant on a man who was mauled by a bear. He said he was amazed by the results of my transplant and that I had opened the door to many others," Dinoire said.
"You don't know how good that made me feel."
She said she still lived with the possibility that her body would reject the new tissue, and had already recovered from two episodes when doctors feared rejection had started.
But even so, she said she was ready to move on with normal life again and put her nightmare behind her.
"I want to live, go back to a normal life and find work... I want people to respect me and leave me in peace. I have the right to quietly rebuild my life," she said.