Isabelle Dinoire admits she has never really grown accustomed to the curious stares from strangers. But a year since she received the face of another woman in a surgery that made headlines worldwide, the French mother of two feels gratitude most of all. "It may be someone else's face," she told PEOPLE, "but when I look in the mirror, I see me."

Her progress has been steady, despite two episodes—the latest was in June—when swelling and redness indicated Dinoire's body was rejecting the nose, lips and chin she received from a suicide victim after losing large sections of her own face in a dog mauling. Doctors upped the antirejection drugs Dinoire will take for the rest of her life, and the episodes passed. "She has recovered 99 percent of her feeling," says Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard, who led the 50-person medical team in 2005. "She is doing well on all levels."

That includes dramatic improvements in her speech. "I am understood wherever I go," says Dinoire, who had troubles with pronunciation because of limpness in her lips. Though she is still most comfortable inside her apartment in the town of Valenciennes, Dinoire does venture out to walk Max, a brown spaniel. (The mixed black Lab that attacked her was destroyed.) A former factory worker, she hopes to begin work as a secretary in 2007. "There have been problems," she says. "But I am getting on with my life."