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Worlds first face and eye transplant made by NYU Langone Health

Arkansas resident Aaron James has successfully received a partial face and whole eye transplant from a single donor following a deadly 7,200-volt electric shock he suffered while working as a high-voltage lineman in June 2021.

New York-based medical center NYU Langone Health facilitated the reconstructive surgery which took place on May 27th, 2023. The procedure lasted 21 hours and was performed by a team of 140 surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Leading the operation was Dr Eduardo D. Rodriguez, director of the Face Transplant Program.

NYU Langone Health collaborated with DePuy Synthes, the orthopedics company of Johnson & Johnson, and Materialise, for both the presurgical planning and actual surgery. 3D computer surgical planning, along with patient-specific 3D cutting guides, enabled precise alignment of bones and optimal placement of implantable plates and screws.

Dr Rodriguez said: “We owe much of our success in this monumental endeavour to the exceptional institutional support we receive at NYU Langone and the unwavering dedication of our world-class team in delivering the highest level of care to our patient. This achievement demonstrates our capacity to embrace the most difficult challenges and drive continuous advancements in the field of transplantation and beyond.”

During the initial surgery following the accident, surgeons had to remove James left eye but were advised to cut the optic nerve as close to the eyeball preserving as much nerve length to maximize reconstructive options.

Dr Rodriguez said: “Given Aaron needed a face transplant and will be taking immunosuppressive drugs regardless, the risk versus reward ratio of transplanting the eye was very low. Despite the eye being successfully transplanted, from a cosmetic standpoint, it would still be a remarkable achievement,”

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It is still uncertain if James will regain his vision in his left eye, but he has shown signs of recovery with direct blood flow to his left retina. Which shows promise for future vision therapies.

After the procedure James 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,”. He added: “I will also forever be thankful to Dr. Rodriguez and his team for changing my life. My family and I wouldn’t have been able to navigate this difficult journey without their expertise and support. Our hope is that my story can serve as inspiration for those facing severe facial and ocular injuries.”

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