A 22-year-old New Jersey man who sustained horrific injuries in a car accident is the first person in the world to have a successful face and double hand transplant, his medical team said Wednesday.
Joe DiMeo suffered third degree burns to over 80 percent of his body while sleeping from a night shift home in July 2018 and his car overturned and then exploded.
Despite being escorted to safety by a passerby, his injuries included amputated fingertips, severe facial scars, and the loss of his lips and eyelids – all of which affected his eyesight and his ability to lead a normal, independent life.
He stayed in a hospital burns department for four months, receiving numerous grafts and life-saving blood transfusions, and was placed in a medically induced coma for almost two and a half months.
But DiMeo said he now has a “second chance in life” and offered a message of hope.
“There is always light at the end of the tunnel, never give up,” DiMeo said at a press conference for NYU Langone Health, which performed the pioneering process using 3D printed cutting guides.
The operation was performed on August 12, 2020 and lasted approximately 23 hours.
It was a team of 96 health care professionals led by surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, director of the face transplant program at NYU Langone.
“We all agree that Joe is the perfect patient,” said Rodriguez. “He’s the most motivated patient I’ve ever met.”
It was the fourth face transplant performed by Rodriguez and the first-hand transplant performed under his direction.
Two other simultaneous face and hand transplants are known to have been attempted, but both failed. One of the patients died of infection-related complications while the other had to remove their hands after failing to thrive.
Finding a donor required a nationwide search, much like “finding a needle in a haystack,” Rodriguez said.
This was because a test known as panel reactive antibody found that it would reject 94 percent of donors, leaving only a six percent chance of a compatible donor.
An exact match was eventually found from the state of Delaware thanks to the Gift of Life donor program.
The grafts included both hands to the middle forearm including the radius and ulnar bones, three dominant nerves to the hand, six blood vessels requiring vascular connections, and 21 tendons.
The donor’s full face was also transplanted, including the forehead, eyebrows, both ears, nose, eyelids, lips and the underlying skull, cheek, nose and chin bone segments.
The risky process, which could have failed and made DiMeo worse than before, or even killed, was a success.
“Fine motor skills continued to improve,” said Rodriguez. “He wants to play sports, he likes to play golf and he wants to get back on the court. I am always impressed with the amount of weight he can lift and the quality of his grip strength.”
DiMeo read from a brief statement in which he thanked his medical team, his family and the “sacrifice” and “selflessness” of his unnamed deceased donor.
He compared learning to use his new hands to having a baby packing things for the first time.
“The hardest part is knowing that I can do it, but my hands aren’t there yet. I have to keep practicing.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)