New Delhi: In a first, doctors in the US have carried out the first successful face and double hand transplant on a 22-year-old.
Joe DiMeo, a night shift worker in New Jersey, had suffered third-degree burns on 80 per cent of his body after a car crash in 2018. The accident had left him with no lips and eyelids. Even his fingertips had to be amputated.
However, in August last year, a team of over 140 healthcare staff at New York University’s Langone Health conducted a 23-hour surgery on DiMeo, transplanting large pieces of skin on to his face as well as his hands. This week, the institute announced the transplant success.
Dr. Frank Papay, a plastic surgeon who specialises in adult and pediatric facial trauma, told the NBC that facial transplants are much more complicated than any organ transplant.
“What we’re talking about is a transplant where it’s skin, muscle, bone, nerves, and a litany of other different types of tissue,” said Papay.
In the past, a woman who received face transplant after being mauled by a chimpanzee developed an infection despite the surgery being successful initially. Her hands had to be eventually surgically removed due to the damage caused by the infection.
DiMeo’s surgery was led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon at NYU Langone Health who specialises in facial transplants and performed the “world’s most extensive facial transplant” in 2015 to restore the face of a firefighter.
The New Jersey worker’s immune system was sensitive, which led to an additional challenge of finding a donor. According to the team, he had just a 6 per cent chance of finding a match. But in August 2020, the team found one.
DiMeo’s transplant included both hands up to the mid-forearm. His eyebrows, ears, nose, eyelids, lips and skull line, cheek, nasal and chin bone were also transplanted.
Speaking to The Guardian about the surgery, DiMeo said, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift, and I hope the (donor) family can take some comfort knowing that part of the donor lives on with me.”
He added, “My parents and I are very grateful that I’ve been given this second chance.”