World's 1st successful face, double hand transplant competed at NYU Langone

NYU Langone Health performed the world's first successful face and double hand transplant on a 22-year-old patient in August, the health system announced in a Feb. 3 news release.

Joe DiMeo sustained severe burns that covered more than 80 percent of his body after a car accident in 2018. Because of the numerous blood transfusions and skin grafts he received after the accident, Mr. DiMeo's immune system was extremely sensitive, leaving him with only a 6 percent chance of finding a donor. 

"Finding Joe the perfect donor was like finding a needle in a haystack," said Eduardo Rodriguez, MD, DDS, director of NYU Langone's face transplant program, who led Mr. DiMeo's surgery. A single donor for both the face and hands was identified just 10 months after Mr. DiMeo was put on the transplant list. 

The 23-hour surgery commanded a team of more than 140 healthcare professionals. Dr. Eduardo attributed the procedure's success to the team's extensive preparation and the use of three-dimensional-printed patient-specific cutting guides, which ensured precise bone alignment and helped identify the best position for implantable plates and screws. 

"We practiced the surgery nearly a dozen times over the course of a year, and in the operating rooms we had teams ensuring everyone followed the steps exactly so we didn't skip a beat or get out of sequence," Dr. Rodriguez said. "Ultimately, it went better than I ever expected." 

There are two other known face and hand combination transplant attempts that were unsuccessful, according to the news release. In one case, the patient died due to an infection-related complication, while the other patient's hands were removed after their body rejected them. 

"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," Mr. DiMeo said. 

To read more about Mr. DiMeo's case, click here. 

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