New Jersey man becomes world’s first successful face and hands transplant

A New Jersey man got a second chance in life with the world’s first face and hands transplant. 

  • In 2018, Joe Dimeo suffered a car accident and was left with third-degree burns on most of his body. 
  • Two years later, he endured a 23-hour life-threatening surgery and a long rehabilitation process. 
  • Today, he is officially the world’s first successful face and hands transplant.

Joe Dimeo, 22, was a victim of a horrific car accident back in 2018. While driving on Route 22 in New Jersey after a night shift at work, he fell asleep and lost control over the wheel. Shortly after, his car hit the curb, flipped over, and caught on fire, as CNN reports.

Credits: NYU Langone Health

Luckily, a stranger managed to pull Dimeo out of the flaming vehicle before it exploded. Although the passerby saved his life, he still suffered severe third-degree burns that affected more than 80% of his body. Due to the uncontrollable flames, Joe lost his eyelids, ears, and much of his fingers.

Prior to the accident, he was a strong, independent young man, but for the last three years, Dimeo was entirely dependant on the help of medical specialists and his family.

On Wednesday, February 3, when NYU Langone Medical Center doctors announced that Joe now has the fantastic opportunity to get his life back.

After a 23-hour surgery in August, he became the lucky recipient of the world’s first successful face and hands transplant. The six-month period from the operation until last week’s announcement was needed so the medics could make sure the patient’s body will not reject the transplants.

According to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the team that completed the unprecedented surgery, Dimeo is “the most highly motivated patient” he has ever worked with. The doctor 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.”

Credits: AP

Dr. Rodriguez disclosed that the medical team needed to be extremely careful and to avoid infection during the surgery. Furthermore, they had to be “very selective with the donor,” to ensure the complete success of the operation.

Dimeo’s motivation to win a second chance in life improved his recovery process tremendously.

The lead expert said:

“Joe is healthy, he’s young, he’s strong, he loves to exercise, he eats healthy, and he had that one special element which is going to be required for this operation. A high level of motivation. And he had a tremendous sense of hope.”

Despite realizing the life-threatening extent of the surgery, Joe never lost hope.

During the 23 grueling hours in the two adjoining operating rooms, the surgeons did the impossible to make Dimeo’s dream come true.

Credits: AP

First, they carefully removed the hands and facial tissue of the donor and replaced them with 3D printed prosthetics. Then, they removed Dimeo’s hands and prepared him for the donor tissue. Dr. Rodriguez explained that they had to replace “21 tendons, three major nerves, five major vessels, two major bones” of each hand.

Later, the specialists removed the patient’s face and prepared him for the new one. The extremely complex surgery was followed by 45 days in ICU and two months of rehab.

The team leader didn’t forget to mention the importance of the donor in the operation:

“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 recognize that someone must give up their life so that others can continue living.”

Throughout his recovery process, the 22-year-old learned how to open his new eyelids and move his new hands. Most importantly, he was finally able to smile again.

“I want to share my story to give people hope in the world.”

Credits: AP

Joe Dimeo is now eager to share his uplifting story with everyone who goes through the same battle. Simultaneously, he is grateful to the person who made all of that possible:

“I’d like to recognize the selflessness of my donor, and how none of this would be possible without his sacrifice. Thank you.”

He continued:

“There’s no excuse to not be motivated, or not to do my therapy.”

“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. You never give up.”

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