Story at a glance

  • Joe DiMeo suffered severe burns to most of his body following a car wreck in 2018.
  • DiMeo’s medical team began readying for the risky face and double hand transplant after it became clear traditional surgeries would not help him regain his vision or use of his hands.
  • Six months after the complex surgery, medical experts say the surgery appears to be a success as DiMeo’s body has not shown any signs of rejecting his new hands or face.

A 22-year-old New Jersey man who was badly burned in a fiery car wreck is the recipient of the first successful face and double hand transplant.

Joe DiMeo was driving home after a late shift at work in July 2018 when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car. The vehicle hit a curb and utility pole before flipping over and bursting into flames. A passing driver who saw the accident pulled over and rescued DiMeo from the burning wreckage. 


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DiMeo suffered third-degree burns on 80 percent of his body. He spent months in a medically induced coma and underwent 20 reconstructive surgeries and multiple skin grafts to treat his extensive injuries. Doctors had to amputate his fingertips, and DiMeo suffered severe facial scarring and had no lips or eyelids, which affected his vision and severely limited his ability to live a functional and independent life. 

DiMeo’s medical team from NYU Langone Health began readying for the risky face and double hand transplant after it became clear traditional surgeries would not help him regain his vision or use of his hands. 

Doctors found a donor in Delaware in August and carried out the 23-hour surgery several days later, amputating both of the man’s hands and replacing them mid-forearm with those of the donor. Surgeons also transplanted a full face, including forehead, eyebrows, nose, eyelids, lips, ears and underlying facial bones. 

Six months after the complex surgery, medical experts say the surgery appears to be a success as DiMeo’s body has not shown any signs of rejecting his new hands or face. 

“Joe was an ideal candidate for this procedure; he’s extremely motivated and dedicated to recovering the independence he lost after his accident,” Eduardo Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon at NYU Langone Health who led the surgery, said in a statement. 

“Thanks to the institutional support we received here at NYU Langone and a world-class team committed to providing the best care for our patient, we’ve succeeded in a tremendous undertaking that shows we can continue to take on new challenges and advance the field of transplantation.”

Simultaneous face and double hand transplants are extremely rare and have only been attempted twice before: once in a patient in Paris in 2009 who later died from complications, and a second time in 2011 when doctors attempted the procedure on a woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee. Doctors had to remove the transplanted hands just days later. 

DiMeo has since been in rehabilitation to gain function in his new face and hands and will need to be on medications for the rest of his life so his body does not reject the transplants. The man says he can now dress and feed himself and is working out again, according to The Associated Press

“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,” DiMeo said. “My parents and I are very grateful that I’ve been given this second chance.” 


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Published on Feb 03, 2021