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World’s First Face And Hands Transplant Recipient Gets A Second Chance At Life

The world’s first face and hands transplant required 80 people across six surgical teams and two adjoining operating rooms. The recipient? 22-year-old New Jersey man, Joe Dimeo

Two years ago, Dimeo had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving down Route 22 in New Jersey. He lost control of his vehicle, hit a curb, and then flipped over, the car bursting into flames. Luckily a witness managed to pull Dimeo out of the vehicle before it exploded.

While he survived the accident, Dimeo suffered from third-degree burns on 80% of his body.

The severe damage included the loss of his eyelids, ears, and much of his fingers. Scarring on his face, neck, and mouth limited his range of motion, and the scars partially covered his eyes as well. 

NYU Langone Health

Only twice has replacing both a patient’s face and hands been attempted, and both were unsuccessful. 

“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.”

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the head of the operation team

Doctors restored Dimeo’s independence and changed his life forever with his new hands and facial tissue. 

In each one of Dimeo’s hands, Dr. Rodriguez and his team had to replace 21 tendons, three major nerves, five major vessels, two major bones.

When Dimeo’s face was removed, small plates were put on his chin to help attach his new face. The bridge of the donor’s nose was grafted in place of Dimeo’s own. Spliced nerves and vasculature brought blood and eventually feeling to the tissue.

The surgical procedure was a grueling 23-hours-long. What came next for Dimeo was 45 days in intensive care, followed up by 2 months of inpatient rehab. He had to learn how to open his new eyelids, how to smile, and how to use his new hands.

“I want to share my story to give people hope in the world…There’s always light at the end of the tunnel…You never give up.”

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Written by Abigale Racine