05/09/2011 at 07:30 PM EDT
America's first full face transplant recipient greeted the public Monday, just weeks after the 15-hour procedure that gave him a nose, lips, skin, muscle and nerves.
"It feels natural," Dallas Wiens told reporters at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Being able to smell again is an amazing thing after two-and-a-half years of not being able to. It's interesting what you pick up on. The ability to breathe through my nose normally, and that in itself, was a major gift."
Wiens, 25 – who lost all of his features and eyesight in 2008 after hitting a power line while painting a church – underwent the transplant in March.
He says the first thing his daughter told him after the operation was, "Daddy, you're so handsome."
"The first thing I was able to smell was hospital lasagna," said Wiens, who is still blind. "And, you wouldn't imagine it, but it smelled delicious. But my favorite smell, hibiscus. The smell of plant life again, to know that I could smell a rose or anything like that again. It really hit home for me."