A team of New York-based surgeons successfully performed the world’s first full-eye and part-face transplant on a patient who survived devastating injuries resulting from a high-voltage electric shock.
The procedure was performed on 46-year-old veteran Aaron James, who, while working as a power lineman, suffered an accident on June 10, 2021 involving a live wire, which saw 7,200 volts of electricity pass through his body. The impact caused extreme damage to James’ face, resulting in the loss of his nose, cheek, lips, front teeth and his left arm down to the elbow.
Fortunately, James survived the accident, although the severity of his injuries prompted doctors to place him in a medically induced coma, after which he underwent several surgeries, including one in which Texas doctors removed his left eye damaged, while retaining just as much optics. nerve as possible.
In June 2022, James was evaluated by a team of specialists at NYU Langone Health led by Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, who collectively agreed to perform the world’s first full eye and partial face transplant.
Aaron James, who survived a 7,200-volt electric shock while working as a lineman in June 2021, recently received the world’s first full-eye and part-face transplant at NYU Langone Health, giving him a new sense of normalcy.
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While corneal transplantation has become relatively widespread, James’s operation represented the first known example of whole eye transplantation. This type of transplant is inherently difficult due to the risk of immune rejection, blood flow problems, and difficulty making nerve connections. To reduce the risk of the latter, it was decided that James’ optic nerve would be injected with bone marrow-derived stem cells taken from the donor, with the aim of stimulating nerve regeneration.
In May 2023, organ procurement organization LiveOnNY was able to identify a viable donor for James. “The donor hero was a young man in his thirties from a family strongly supportive of organ donation,” said Leonard Achan, president and CEO of LiveOnVY. “With the support of his family, he generously donated tissue that enabled this successful face and eye transplant, but he also saved three other people aged 20 to 70 by donating his kidneys, his liver and pancreas. »
During a procedure that lasted 21 hours, 16 surgeons and an extended team of 80 specialists operated simultaneously on the donor and the patient. Using cutting-edge technology, surgeons were able to methodically transplant James’ lower face, left eye and large sections of the underlying skull, including the left eye socket, while connecting the nerves vital facial and blood vessels.
The operation was ultimately a success, and in the six months following the procedure, James regained many of the functions that had been taken away from him by the accident, including his ability to smell, taste and eat solid foods.
James is currently not able to see through his transplanted left eye, and it is unclear whether he will ever gain this ability. However, the donor eye is otherwise healthy a few months after surgery, opening the possibility of further advances that could restore sight to transplant patients.
“I am grateful beyond words to the donor and his family, who gave me a second chance at life during this time of great difficulty,” James said. “I hope the family finds comfort in knowing that part of the donor lives with me. »
“I will also be forever grateful to Dr. Rodriguez and his team for changing my life. My family and I could not have gotten through this difficult journey without their expertise and support. We hope my story can serve as an inspiration to those facing serious facial and eye injuries.
Image credit: JOE CAROTTA / NYU LANGONE STAFF
Anthony is a freelance contributor who covers science and video games news for IGN. He has over eight years of experience covering cutting-edge developments in several scientific fields and has absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer