Back in July 2018, 20-year-old Joe DiMeo dozed off while driving his car on Route 22 in New Jersey. The car hit the curb, flipped over, and burst into flames almost instantly.
Fortunately, DiMeo’s life was narrowly saved as passersby managed to pull him out of the blazing car moments before it exploded. However, DiMeo still suffered third-degree burns on 80% of his body. As he slowly recovered, it was seen that the accident had left his face without eyelids and ears and his face was extremely scarred. In fact, he also lost most of his fingers. The accident also took away his ability to move his neck and limited his movements overall.
After two years since the tragic incident took place, DiMeo went to Manhattan, where he underwent surgery at the NYU Langone Health Center in August 2020.
A surgical team from NYU Langone Health performed a face and double hand transplant for a 22-year-old New Jersey resident severely burned in a car crash. The surgery included transplanting both hands and the full face of a single donor.
It marked the first successful combination transplant case of its kind in the world. And almost six months after a rare face and hands transplant, Joe DiMeo is relearning how to smile, blink, pinch and squeeze.
He had had the operation last August, two years after being badly burned in a car crash.
“I knew it would be baby steps all the way,” he told the news outlets. “You’ve got to have a lot of motivation, a lot of patience. And you’ve got to stay strong through everything.”
Experts say it appears the surgery at NYU Langone Health in New York City was a success, but warn it will take some time to say for sure.
Surgeons have completed at least 18 face transplants and 35 hand transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the US transplant system.
The double face and hand transplant required the expertise of sixteen surgeons. The procedure took twenty-three hours and included work from 80 staff members across six medical teams. They also used two operating rooms.
But simultaneous face and double hand transplants are extremely rare and have only been tried twice before.
The first attempt was in 2009 on a patient in Paris who died about a month later from complications. Two years later, Boston doctors tried it on a woman who had been mauled by a chimpanzee but ultimately had to remove the transplanted hands days later.
“The fact they could pull it off is phenomenal,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the second attempt. “I know first-hand it’s incredibly complicated. It’s a tremendous success.”
DiMeo will be on lifelong medication to avoid rejecting the transplants, as well as continued rehabilitation to gain sensation and function in his new face and hands.
DiMeo also expressed his gratitude toward his donor’s family and his desire to thank them in person one day.
“I’m grateful for them to give this gift to me – I don’t know how to thank someone that gives you a second chance at life,” he said.
DiMeo’s father, John, added, “From the moment after the operation when we walked through that door… that’s him now.”
Watch the video below for more details: