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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Doctors hail first face and double hand transplant

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Joe DiMeo, 22, underwent the 23-hour surgery, performed by a team of more than 140 healthcare workers last August.

A car crash in 2018 left Mr DiMeo with third-degree burns over 80% of his body. His fingertips were amputated and he lost his lips and eyelids.

Joe DiMeo said the operation had given him a “second chance at life”.

Mr DiMeo was on his way home from a night shift when he fell asleep at the wheel. His car crashed, bursting into flames.

He spent four months in a burns unit, which included time in an induced coma. Mr DiMeo then had more than 20 reconstructive surgeries but only regained limited use of his hands and face.

In 2019, he was referred to an academic medical centre in New York, NYU Langone, where he underwent transplant surgery last August.

Eduardo Rodriguez, director of the Face Transplant Program, said: “We wanted to give him not only an operation that made him look better, but it ultimately had to work ideally, especially with the hands.”

Mr DiMeo spent 45 days in intensive care after the surgery and a further two months in hospital, where he had to learn how to open his eyelids and use his new hands.

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Two face and double hand transplants have taken place before but both were unsuccessful. One patient died from complications and the other had their hands removed after they failed to thrive, the hospital said.

Doctors at the hospital waited to make sure the transplants were not rejected before labelling it as a success.

Mr Rodriguez says Mr DiMeo, who does up to five hours of rehab a day, is the “most highly motivated patient” he has ever met.

“He wants to work on sports, he loves to play golf, and he wants to get back to the course. I’m always impressed by the amount of weight that he can lift and the quality of his grip strength,” he added.

Mr DiMeo says he can now workout by himself and make breakfast.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift, and I hope the family can take some comfort knowing that part of the donor lives on with me,” he said. “My parents and I are very grateful that I’ve been given this second chance.”

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