Who is Joe DiMeo? New Jersey burn survivor becomes world's 1st person to get successful face and hands transplant

It took a team of 80 medical professionals in six surgical teams at NYU Langone Medical Center to perform the critical transplant surgery successfully


                            Who is Joe DiMeo? New Jersey burn survivor becomes world's 1st person to get successful face and hands transplant
22-year-old Joe DiMeo before and after the critical face transplant surgery (NYU Langone Health Center)

22-year-old Joe DiMeo from New Jersey has become the world’s first individual to undergo a successful facial and hands transplant together. DiMeo, who was severely injured and disfigured in a car accident two years ago, can now finally smile again. It took a team of 80 medical professionals in six surgical teams at NYU Langone Medical Center to perform the critical transplant surgery successfully. 

RELATED ARTICLE

5-month-old survives heart-lung transplant, becomes youngest recipient in a decade

What had happened to DiMeo?

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 a 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. 

Joe DiMeo before the accident (Facebook/Joseph DiMeo)

DiMeo had opted to undergo the risky and critical face and hand dual transplant surgery, but it could have ended his life if anything had gone wrong. Though hand transplants and face transplants have been performed separately several times, together these two transplants have been attempted only twice in the world, both times unsuccessfully. 

Joe DiMeo before the accident (NYU Langone Health Center)

But, the expert surgeons at NYU finally achieved success in executing the process flawlessly and gifting DiMeo a new chance at life. 

How was the surgery done?

In August 2020, it took the team of 16 expert doctors 23 strenuous hours to complete the surgery. On February 3, 2021, the NYU doctors finally announced their accomplishment, after ensuring that the transplants were not rejected by DiMeo’s body and he was well on his path to recovery. 

There was only a 6% chance of DiMeo finding an identical donor, but luckily he found one last year. Even then, there was a high chance of infection, hence the doctors had to be very selective with the donor. They made use of state-of-the-art technology for the surgery.

The hands and facial tissue of the dying donor were removed carefully and replaced with 3D printed prosthetics. On the other hand, DiMeo's own hands and facial tissues were being carefully removed with precision, for him to receive the donor tissue. The new facial tissue was attached with small plates on his chin, while nerves and vasculature needed to be spliced together. 

In his arms, “21 tendons, three major nerves, five major vessels, two major bones (radius and ulna)" had to be replaced to prepare his new limbs, informed lead doctor Eduardo Rodriguez. 

After the surgery was completed, DiMeo had to spend 45 days in intensive care, followed by inpatient rehab for two months. Now, DiMeo is able to open his eyes again, smile and even use his hands for writing, aside from normal work. 

"I'd like to recognize the selflessness of my donor, and how none of this would be possible without his sacrifice," DiMeo said in a self-written statement, adding that he feels he has been gifted a ‘second chance at life’, reported CNN. His doctor also revealed that before his surgery was performed, they observed a moment’s silence to honor the donor’s sacrifice. 

DiMeo’s healthy lifestyle and high spirit of life propelled him to the path of recovery much faster than anticipated. His entire path to recovery has been captured here