Doctors in New York have performed the world’s first-ever whole-eye and partial face transplant on a military veteran who was badly injured in a high-voltage work accident.
Aaron James, 46, underwent 21 hours of surgery at NYU Langone Health which saw the entire left eye and portion of face transplanted from a single donor.
A team of more than 140 surgeons, nurses and other healthcare professionals led by Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, director of the Face Transplant Program, took part in the groundbreaking procedure in May.
Doctors say that it is still unknown if Mr James will regain his sight but that the transplanted left eye has shown “remarkable signs of health” with direct blood flow to the retina.
The recipient, who is from Hot Springs, Arkansas, survived a 7,200-volt electric shock to the face while working as a high-voltage lineman in June 2021.
Surgeons in Texas were forced to remove his eyeball because of severe pain after the accident.
Mr James and his doctors decided to participate in the eyeball transplant, understanding that it may only ever provide a cosmetic benefit.
“Given Aaron needed a face transplant and will be taking immunosuppressive drugs regardless, the risk versus reward ratio of transplanting the eye was very low. Despite the eye being successfully transplanted, from a cosmetic standpoint, it would still be a remarkable achievement,” said Dr Rodriguez.
“The mere fact that we’ve accomplished the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat many have long thought was not possible,” added Dr Rodriguez. “We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”
It is the fifth face transplant that the team has performed and the first ever known whole-eye transplant.
“The mere fact that we’ve accomplished the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat many have long thought was not possible,” added Dr Rodriguez.
“We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”
A potential donor was identified at another New York City hospital by LiveOnNY, an orange procurement organisation.
“The donor hero was a young man in his 30s who came from a family that strongly supports organ donation,” said Leonard Achan, president and CEO of LiveOnNY.
“He generously donated tissues leading to this successful face and eye transplant, but also saved three other individuals between the ages of 20 and 70, donating his kidneys, liver and pancreas.”
Mr James has been recovering from the surgery back home in Arkansas.
“I’m grateful beyond words for the donor and his family, who have given me a second chance at life during their own time of great difficulty,” he said.
“I will also forever be thankful to Dr. Rodriguez and his team for changing my life. My family and I wouldn’t have been able to navigate this difficult journey without their expertise and support.”