A 68-year-old US man became the first black patient to receive a full face transplant ever, and his quick recovery has been astonishing
- Robert Chelsea, who suffered burns over 60% of his body and face after his car was struck by a drunk driver in 2013, received a face transplant in July, according to a press release from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in the USA.
- By undergoing the procedure, Chelsea, a 68-year-old from Los Angeles, became the first black patient, as well as the oldest, to ever receive a full face transplant.
- Doctors said that two months after the procedure, that Chelsea is "progressing and recovering remarkably fast."
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A 68-year-old from Los Angeles became the first black patient, as well as the oldest, to receive a full face transplant over the summer, and doctors say his recovery has been remarkably smooth.
Robert Chelsea suffered burns over 60% of his body and face after his car was struck by a drunk driver in 2013, according to a press release from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
He received a full transplant in July, in a 16-hour surgery that included 45 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents and research fellows at the hospital. The procedure, which was paid for through a grant from the US Department of Defense, was only the 15th performed in America.
Bohdan Pomahac, the Roberta and Stephen R. Weiner Distinguished Chair in Surgery and director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation at Brigham Health, said in the press release that Chelsea is "progressing and recovering remarkably fast."
"We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert's quality of life," he said.
In a story published in TIME magazine, reporter Jamie Ducharme detailed how the wait for a donor face was longer for Chelsea because of the time it took to find a face that would match Chelsea's skin tone. Ducharme wrote that African Americans are less likely than Caucasians to donate their faces for transplants, and are often hesitant to volunteer for medical studies because of a deep-rooted history of healthcare mistrust.
"We are a lot more hesitant to be a donor," Chelsea told TIME. "It causes us to lose out when we need a kidney or a liver or a lung."
Chelsea turned down the first face he was offered, in May 2018, because it had belonged to a man with much lighter skin. He told TIME that he worried about becoming a "totally different looking person" if he took the face.
Just days after the surgery, Chelsea started to eat, talk, and breathe on his own. The swelling has since gone down, Chelsea's speech and vision have improved, and his head has started to grow hair.
"This experience has been an incredible journey for me, filled at times with many challenges. Today, however, I am thrilled to say that I'm on the road to recovery thanks to the incredible team of doctors and staff at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the love and support of my family and friends, and my unwavering faith," Chelsea said in a statement released by Brigham and Women's.
There have been about 40 face transplants across the world since the first was performed in France in 2005.
Insider has contacted Chelsea for comment.
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