First Full Face Transplant Done on a Black Man
An African American man in Boston was the first to have a full face transplant. Robert Chelsea had the honor of being the 1st black American to receive a full face transplant.
His record goes even higher as been the oldest man (at 68) to receive a full facial transplant and the 15th receiver in the U.S.
The elderly man was earlier offered a face which he politely turned down. Chelsea was involved in a catastrophic car accident being hit by a drunk driver in 2013. Chelsea was attending to his car, which he had packed at the shoulder of the highway when the driver slammed into him.
He suffered burns over 60% of his body and face when the vehicle burst into flames. He was left with an almost lipless mouth which would give him a hard time as he had to tilt his head back to keep food and water in his mouth.
The first face offered to him was from a man with a fairer complexion than his. Accepting it would have meant Chelsea would become “a totally different looking person” a thought that did not sit well with him. He opted to wait and the doctors had to respect his decision
Face transplants are rare with only 50 operations done worldwide to date. Chelsea’s surgery in light of the disparities cases about transplants will set as an example of the positive impact of transplants. It revives hope in the medical system to be impartial and adequately serve all. His story is likely to prompt African American families to donate their organs which would save lives and reduce waiting time. The first partial face transplant was conducted in France in 2005.
Chelsea went through multiple surgeries of skin grafting for his burns and for treating gastrointestinal complications. The skin grafting was successful but his lips, part of his left ear and nose could not be reconstructed. He was put on the face transplant list in March 2018. A year later he got that call- Another match for the transplant had been found!
Chelsea tried to live a normal life as he waited for a transplant. His disfigured face attracted attention wherever he went. But he confessed his appearance was not a bother to him neither did he blame the people who stared at him.
When his particular match was found he went into surgery for 16 hours. A team of 45 physicians, anesthesiologists, nurses and researchers led by Bondan Pohamac worked day and night to make this procedure a success.
The historic surgery was successful and all that remained was weeks of follow up care. Within 10 days Chelsea could eat, talk and breathe normally.