New Jersey 22-Year-Old Joe DiMeo Receives World's 1st Face and Hands Transplant

NYU Langone
NYU Langone

Joe DiMeo, who lives in New Jersey, underwent the procedure in August after burning 80% of his body in a horrific car crash two years ago.

The 22-year-old who has received the first successful face and hand transplant in the world is now back in the gym and working on his golf swing. Joe DiMeo, who lives in New Jersey, underwent the procedure in August after burning 80% of his body in a horrific car crash two years ago.

Although DiMeo isn’t out of the woods and will be on medication for the rest of his life to make sure his body doesn’t reject the transplants, experts at NYU Langone, where the surgery took place, said it was a success, CBS News reported.

Face and hand transplants have only been tried twice in history, once in Paris in 2009 and another time in Boston in 2011, but both attempts failed. One patient died, and the other’s body rejected the transplanted hands.

"I knew it would be baby steps all the way," DiMeo told the Associated Press. "You've got to have a lot of motivation, a lot of patience. And you've got to stay strong through everything.”

DiMeo’s journey hasn’t been an easy one. In 2018, he fell asleep while driving and his car flipped over and burst into flames, but a passerby was able to rescue him from the vehicle. He had to have his fingers amputated and his eyelids were fused. He’s had over 20 reconstructive surgeries since then, CBS News reported. 

That’s when doctors decided it may be better to try the transplants but DiMeo only had a 6% chance of finding a matching donor with his immune system, gender, skin color and hand dominance.

Before the surgery, DiMeo told People he “wasn’t able to do anything at all” and would just lay on the couch at home.

Thankfully, in August, doctors found a match in Delaware and DiMeo underwent the 23-hour surgery. Doctors amputated DiMeo’s hands and connected his nerves, blood vessels and tendons with the donor’s as well as doing a full face transplant. More than 140 people were on his medical team.

"The possibility of us being successful based on the track record looked slim," Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, an expert in reconstructive plastic surgery at NYU Langone Hospital, told the Associated Press. “It’s not that someone has done this many times before and we have a kind of a schedule, a recipe to follow.”

He’s been working hard in rehab since his surgery. DiMeo can dress himself and he’s even benching 50 pounds at the gym.  It’s the little things that make him happy now, like feeling his dog’s fur, he told People. For him, he’s just taking the journey step-by-step.

“I just kind of roll with the punches and keep looking forward," he told People. "You can always look on the downside of things, but there's always more good things than bad things."