World’s First Face And Hands Transplant Gives Man Second Chance At Life
Joe DiMeo has become the first person in the world to receive a face and hands transplant. ‘You never give up,’ he said.
In 2018, DiMeo was involved in a horrific car crash after falling asleep at the wheel on New Jersey’s Route 22. After the vehicle flipped and burst into flames, he was fortunately pulled out – however, he suffered third-degree burns over nearly 80% of his body.
Two years later, at the age of 22, he’s gone from not having eyes, many of his fingers and suffering severe scarring to a new pair of hands and face.
The ‘unprecedented’ surgery took 23 hours to complete in August 2020, made possible by 80 people across six teams in two operating rooms in NYU Langone Medical Center. After 45 days in the ICU, two months of inpatient rehab and further analysis, the procedure’s success has only been confirmed now as the doctor wanted to ensure DiMeo’s body accepted the transplants.
Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez described DiMeo as ‘the most highly motivated patient [he’s] ever met’, as per CNN. He added, ‘There have been over a hundred hand transplants performed successfully, and close to 50 face transplants. So fundamentally there was no reason why they couldn’t occur together, successfully.’
Following two unsuccessful attempts of the same operation, Rodriguez explained, ‘We needed to avoid infection, we needed to have this operation occur as fast as possible, we had to be very selective with the donor, and we had to implement every state of the art technology that would ensure complete success of Joe’s operation, and that’s exactly what we did.’
After the face and hands were removed from the donor, DiMeo’s own facial tissue and hands were then removed with precise cuts, the latter of which posed the highest risk. As Rodriguez said, the teams had to replace 21 tendons, three major nerves, five major vessels and two major bones.
The doctor added, ‘We always begin the operation with a moment of silence to honor the donor family, to respect their great loss, to never forget the donations that have been made. In all these operations it’s important to recognise that someone must give up their life so that others can continue living.’
DiMeo shared a statement on Wednesday, February 3, in which he said, ‘I want to share my story to give people hope in the world. I’d like to recognise the selflessness of my donor, and how none of this would be possible without his sacrifice. Thank you.’
He’s still getting used to his new hands, saying ‘it’s kind of like when you’re a baby, they’re just moving their hands all the time until they get that ability to do stuff. I’ve got new hands now, just like them’.
Speaking about his ‘second chance at life’, he added, ‘There’s no excuse to not be motivated, or not to do my therapy. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.’
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