Two years ago, 22-year-old Joe DiMeo fell asleep at the wheel after working a night shift. He drove the car into the curb, where it crashed and exploded. DiMeo would have died that day along the New Jersey highway if it were not for people who arrived at the scene of the crash and pulled the young man from the flames that had engulfed him. For two years, DiMeo suffered as he recovered from the debilitating car crash that left 80 percent of his body burned – until he qualified for the first-of-its-kind surgery to help him look better.
In August 2020, DiMeo went to Manhattan, where he underwent surgery at the NYU Langone Health Center. He was scheduled to be the first person to receive a double hand and face transplant, becoming the first person in the world to do so.
After the car wreck, which happened when DiMeo was nineteen-years-old, doctors put him into a medically induced coma for two months while they tried to help him recover. Since the day of the accident, he has undergone twenty surgeries as doctors tried to help him recover from the crash.
Then the unthinkable happened. DiMeo was matched with a donor who could give him a new face and hands. They found the surgical match on August 9, 2020, after doctors had been forced to pause looking for a donor due to the pandemic. The donor’s identity has remained anonymous, but the person who gave DiMeo another chance at life was located in Delaware.
Doctors feared that the double face and hand transplant might not work. They had worked through a six-percent chance of finding an eligible donor. Despite the odds, they found a match for DiMeo.
“We knew that it would be a needle in a haystack,” Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the medical team, told Good Morning America. “We had to actually broaden our search beyond the state of New York, to the entire country, so every state in the country was actually looking for a donor for Joe.”
The double face and hand transplant required the expertise of sixteen surgeons. The procedure took twenty-three hours and included work from 80 staff members across six medical teams. They also used two operating rooms.
On Wednesday, DiMeo’s doctors were finally ready to show the results. It had been six months since the surgery, so DiMeo appeared at a press conference where he said he was “so grateful” to have a new face and hands.
DiMeo appeared on Good Morning America to talk about his groundbreaking surgery.
“When I saw my face for the first time, it didn’t hit me. It didn’t seem real at first,” he said. “The swelling comes down every day. I see my cheekbones now.”
DiMeo also expressed his gratitude toward his donor’s family and his desire to thank them in person one day.
“I’m grateful for them to give this gift to me – I don’t know how to thank someone that gives you a second chance at life,” he said.
DiMeo’s father, John, added, “From the moment after the operation when we walked through that door… that’s him now.”
What do you think about this groundbreaking transplant?