It’s been more than two years since Joe Dimeo crashed his car on Route 22 in New Jersey. The accident took place in July 2018, when 20 years old Domio fell asleep at the wheel of his car and as a result lost control of the car, which hit the curb and flipped over before bursting into flames.
Just before the car exploded, a passerby pulled Dimeo out of the vehicle that saved his life. Since then, he is struggling with third-degree burns over nearly 80% of his body, as he was left without eyelids, ears, and much of his fingers. Severe scarring around his face and neck limited his range of motion as well as the scars partially covered his eyes.
Doctors at NYU Langone Medical Center announced on Wednesday, now the 22-year-old Dimeo was on the road to gaining his life back following 23 grueling hours of surgery, as the recipient of the world’s first successful face and hands transplant.
Head of the medical team that completed the unprecedented surgery Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez told reporters at a Wednesday news briefing that “He’s the most highly motivated patient I’ve ever met” and “There have been over a hundred hand transplants performed successfully, and close to 50 face transplants”.
Dr. Rodriguez also added, “So fundamentally there was no reason why they couldn’t occur together, successfully. We needed to avoid infection, we needed to have this operation occur as fast as possible, we had to be very selective with the donor, and we had to implement every state of the art technology that would ensure the complete success of Joe’s operation, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Dr. Rodriguez confirmed that “Joe is healthy, he’s young, he’s strong, he loves to exercise, he eats healthy, and he had that one special element which is going to be required for this operation,” he said, “A high level of motivation. And he had a tremendous sense of hope.”
Worldwide there were only been two previous attempts to pursue such a critical transplant surgery of a patient’s face and both hands and for this reason, it is typically unusual. This operation took about 6 surgical teams that consist of 80 people along with two adjoining operating rooms.
In one operating room, the hands and facial tissue of a dying donor were carefully removed and replaced with 3D printed prosthetics. Rodriguez mentioned, “We always begin the operation with a moment of silence to honor the donor family, to respect their great loss, to never forget the donations that have been made”. He also added, “In all these operations it’s important to recognize that someone must give up their life so that others can continue living.”
In the other operating room, Dimeo was being prepared for the donor tissue by precisely cutting his hands and facial tissues. As per Dr. Rodriguez, a little mistake during this critical operation could end Dimeo’s life as his situation was pretty sensitive. He said, “We have to replace 21 tendons, three major nerves, five major vessels, two major bones”.
About 23 hours have been passed until the final stitch was made and the next Dimeo will be in 45 days in intensive care. That will be followed by two months of inpatient rehab, while he practices to open his new eyelids and to move his new hands as well as he will smile.
Dimeo presented a written statement to read with his newly opened eyes. He said, “I want to share my story to give people hope in the world”. He further added, “I’d like to recognize the selflessness of my donor, and how none of this would be possible without his sacrifice”.
He admitted that it is a second chance that life given to him, he said, “There’s no excuse to not be motivated, or not to do my therapy”. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” and he asked all that “You never give up.”
He said about his new limbs, “My hands aren’t there yet. I have to keep practicing,” and “It’s kind of like when you’re a baby, they’re just moving their hands all the time until they get that ability to do stuff. I’ve got new hands now, just like them,”