USA TODAY US Edition
First African American gets full face transplant
‘I feel like myself’ says L.A. man after surgery
Surgeons in Boston performed the first full face transplant on an African American patient, the hospital announced.
At 68, Robert Chelsea also is the oldest person to receive a full facial transplant according to a Friday release from Brigham and Women’s Hospital where the surgery was done. He is the 15th person in the United States to undergo the procedure.
“May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance,” Chelsea said in a statement. “Words cannot describe how I feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift.”
The Los Angeles native suffered burns over 60% of his body and face when his car burst into flames after being hit by a drunken driver in 2013. After the accident, he was in a coma for six months and was hospitalized for about a year and a half.
Chelsea underwent more than 30 surgeries, but his lips, part of his nose and left ear were unable to be reconstructed. He was put on the list for a face transplant in March 2018, but he had to wait longer than previous patients to find a donor that would match his skin tone, according to the hospital.
Although a black patient in Paris received a partial face transplant in 2007, Chelsea is the first known black recipient of a full face transplant.
African Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of organ transplants, according to the most current data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. In 2015, nearly 30% of transplant candidates were black compared with just 13.5% of organ donors.
“It is vitally important for individuals of all races and ethnicities to consider organ donation, including the donation of external grafts, such as face and hands,” Alexandra Glazier, president and CEO of New England Donor Services, said in a statement. “Unlike internal organs, the skin tone of the donor may be important to finding a match.”
The 16-hour surgery took place in July and involved a team of more than 45 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents and research fellows led by Bohdan Pomahac who said Chelsea is “progressing and recovering remarkably fast.”
“We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life,” Pomahac said.
Within 10 days of the historic surgery, Chelsea was eating, talking and breathing on his own, TIME reported, although he would have to stay in Boston to complete weeks of follow up care.
“Morning by morning, new versions (of me) unfold,” Chelsea told Time when he was discharged from the hospital. “(But) I feel like myself.”