[imagesource: Mark Lennihan/AP]
In 2018, Joe DiMeo was driving home, having ended the night shift as a product tester for a pharmaceutical company.
He fell asleep behind the wheel, lost control of the car, and crashed into a utility pole. The car flipped and burst into flames.
A driver who saw the accident rescued him from the burning car.
DiMeo, now 22, suffered third-degree burns all over his body and would spend the next few months in a medically induced coma, before undergoing multiple skin grafts and surgeries to treat the damage.
Once it became clear, reports Sky News, that these surgeries wouldn’t be enough, his doctors decided to try something risky – transplanting new hands and a face.
“The possibility of us being successful based on the track record looked slim,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the medical team of more than 140 people.
“It’s not that someone has done this many times before and we have a kind of a schedule, a recipe to follow.”
Finding a donor was challenging. There was only a six percent chance that they’d find the right match, and they needed someone with the same gender and skin tone as DiMeo. Then when the pandemic hit New York, and many of the doctors on his team had to work in COVID-19 wards to help deal with the surge of cases.
Finally, in August 2020, having overcome some of these problems, they did the surgery.
Doctors amputated both of Mr DiMeo’s hands, replacing them mid-forearm and connecting nerves, blood vessels and 21 tendons with hair-thin stitches.
They also transplanted a full face, including the forehead, eyebrows, nose, eyelids, lips, both ears and underlying facial bones.
The before and after, as you can see above, is remarkable.
“Rehab was pretty intense,” DiMeo said, and involves a lot of “retraining yourself to do stuff on your own again.”
He is slowly gaining sensation in his new hands and is working on facial movements.
NYU Lygone Health compiled a short documentary, which includes footage from before and after his surgery, and interviews with him and his doctors:
Science has come a long way since September 1998 when a team of surgeons in Lyon, France, performed the world’s first successful hand-forearm transplants. Since then, upwards of 18 people have undergone the surgery.
There have also been several firsts in the field of face transplants over the past few years, including the youngest person in America to receive a face transplant, and the first African American to receive a face transplant.
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