'So Happy:' World's First Hand/Face Transplant Patient Doing Well

'So Happy:' World's First Hand/Face Transplant Patient Doing Well

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Joe DiMeo's life changed forever when he fell asleep at the wheel on U.S. Route 22 in New Jersey on July 14, 2018.

The horrific crash left him with third-degree burns on 80% of his body and a grim prognosis.

Now, more than two years later, DiMeo, 22, is the recipient of the world's first successful double hand and face transplant, and on the road to recovery.

The historic surgery, which took place on Aug. 12, 2020, at NYU Langone in New York City, involved more than 140 health care professionals.

Over 23 hours, they successfully transplanted two hands, three dominant nerves to the hand, six blood vessels, 21 tendons and a full face, including forehead, eyebrows, both ears, nose, eyelids, lips, and underlying skull, cheek, nasal and chin bone segments.

Face and hand transplants have been performed independently, but this double procedure had been attempted twice before and was unsuccessful both times.

For this procedure, surgeons used computer-generated three-dimensional guides. They ensured that bones were properly aligned and implants were in position to anchor the grafted face and hands to DiMeo.

Technology aside, a big part of DiMeo's success owes to his can-do attitude, according to the head of his surgical team, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, director of NYU Langone's Face Transplant Program.

"He is the most highly motivated patient I have ever met," Rodriguez marveled during a media briefing.

And while it hasn't been an easy road, DiMeo told reporters he's "grateful" and doing well.

"I have been able to get back to many activities I love, such as playing with my dog and playing pool," he said. "I can't wait to get back to work."

Reaching this milestone was no easy feat.

DiMeo spends five hours a day in various types of therapy. He is re-learning everything from how to feed and dress himself to how to lift weights and swing a golf club. This video shows his amazing progress: