Groundbreaking surgery grants New Jersey man a new lease on life as he becomes the first person to receive a double hand and face transplant.
In 2018, a car accident that involved 22-year-old New Jersey resident Joe DiMeo nearly took his life. After working a night shift, he was driving home when he dozed off, crashing into a curb and igniting the car.
Joe was rescued from the flames by some witnesses at the scene of the tragedy, although he sustained burns on over 80% of his body. Joe had twenty surgeries over the course of two years, but his body was still healing from the collision.
In August 2020, Joe went to Manhattan’s NYU Langone Health Center, where he underwent a groundbreaking surgery. He was set to become the first person in the world to receive a double hand and face transplant.
Joe had been in a medically induced coma for two months after the accident, and since then, his doctors had been trying to help him recover. But then the impossible happened – a donor was found who could give Joe a new face and hands.
The donor’s identity remained anonymous, but they were located in Delaware. The double face and hand transplant required sixteen surgeons and eighty staff members across six medical teams. The procedure took twenty-three hours and included two operating rooms.
“We knew that it would be a needle in a haystack. We had to actually broaden our search beyond the state of New York, to the entire country, so every state in the country was actually looking for a donor for Joe,” Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the medical team, told Good Morning America.
Doctors were uncertain about the success of the transplant, but six months later, Joe appeared at a press conference, where he expressed his gratitude for the new lease on life. He was “so grateful” to have a new face and hands.
Joe appeared on Good Morning America to talk about his groundbreaking surgery.
“When I saw my face for the first time, it didn’t hit me. It didn’t seem real at first,” he said. “The swelling comes down every day. I see my cheekbones now.”
Joe also expressed his desire to thank the donor’s family in person someday, saying, “I don’t know how to thank someone that gives you a second chance at life.”