US veteran undergoes world's first whole-eye, partial-face transplant

The 21-hour-long procedure involved 140 medical professionals

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Photo: NYU Langone Health
Photo: NYU Langone Health

Published: Fri 10 Nov 2023, 9:51 PM

Aaron James, a military veteran from Arkansas, the US, earlier this year underwent the world’s first whole-eye and partial-face transplant led by a surgical team from NYU Langone Health.

The 21-hour-long procedure involved 140 medical professionals.

NYU Langone Health also released details about James’ whole-eye and partial-face transplant operation on November 8. In 2021, the 46-year-old was working as a utility line worker when a 7,200-volt live wire touched his face. James lost vision in his left eye and the accident also damaged his face. Over the years, James had to undergo multiple surgeries to reconstruct his face, the hospital statement added.

While James has yet to get vision in the transplanted eye, doctors said he is showing remarkable progress.

Dr. Bruce E, a transplant surgeon, in the statement, said, “The progress we’ve seen with the eye is exceptional, especially considering that we have a viable cornea paired with a retina showing great blood flow five months after the procedure. This far exceeds our initial expectations, given our initial hope was that the eye would survive at least 90 days.”

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Dr Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the director of the Face Transplant Programme, spoke about the importance of this surgery and said that we’ve accomplished the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat many have long thought was not possible. "We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision," he added.

The eye and face used for James’ operation came from a single donor and was matched with the help of LiveOnNY, the organ procurement organisation for the greater New York metropolitan area.

In a statement, James thanked the unknown donor and the doctors at NYU Langone Health. He said, “I’m grateful beyond words for the donor and his family, who have given me a second chance at life during their own time of great difficulty. I hope the family finds solace in knowing that part of the donor lives on with me,” said James.

Talking to NBC News, James explained that the operation was “life-changing” and added, “I can go out and I’m really not stared at anymore. I just look like a normal person walking down the street”.

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