Surgeons in Boston have completed the first full face transplant on a black patient, a Los Angeles man who was severely disfigured when a drunk driver slammed into his car.
Robert Chelsea, 68, is also the oldest patient ever to undergo the 16-hour procedure, which involved a team of 45 physicians, nurses and other medical professionals at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in July.
“May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance,” Chelsea said in a statement released Thursday. “Words cannot describe how I feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift.”
In 2013, Chelsea suffered burns over 60% of his body and face when his overheated car was struck by a drunk driver as he waited on the shoulder of a highway. The car went up in flames, ultimately sending Chelsea into a coma for six months.
Chelsea underwent more than 30 surgeries, but his lips, nose and left ear could not be reconstructed, leading doctors to list him for a face transplant in March 2018.
But the wait for a suitable donor was longer than usual because of Chelsea’s skin tone, health officials said.
“It is vitally important for individuals of all races and ethnicities to consider organ donation, including the donation of external grafts, such as face and hands,” New England Donor Services president and CEO Alexandra Glazier said in a statement. “Unlike internal organs, the skin tone of the donor may be important to finding a match.”
Chelsea’s outlook is good, as he’s likely to achieve near-normal sensation and 60 percent of motor function in his face within a year. That also means the ability to eat, smile and speak normally once again, doctors said.
“I am forever indebted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the most amazing surgical and nurse team ever assembled,” Chelsea said. “The place oozes compassion.”
Dr. Bodhan Pomahac, who led the transplant team, said Chelsea is “recovering remarkably fast” after becoming the ninth patient to receive a face transplant at the hospital and just the 15th ever nationwide. In 2007, a black patient in France received a partial face transplant, hospital officials said.
“We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life,” Pomahac said.
New York post