A man has become the first African American patient to receive a full face transplant – after suffering horrific burns to 60 percent of his body.
Robert Chelsea, 68, from California, had been waiting six years for the procedure while doctors tried to find a donor with the same skin tone.
In August 2013, Chelsea was driving to church in the fast lane on a summer night when his car overheated. He was on the side of the Interstate when a drunken driver collided with his vehicle.
“My car went up in the air, and when it came down, it blew up,” he said. The inferno burned Chelsea severely. “They laid me on a gurney, and I closed my eyes to rest, Chelsea said. “When I woke up, it was six months later.”.
After waking up from a coma, he spent another nine months in the hospital. He was released on November 2014 after undergoing more than 30 surgeries. But his lips, part of his nose, and left ear were unable to be reconstructed.
Robert was scheduled to have a face transplant in March 2018, but doctors failed to find a donor with matching skin tone, as only 14 percent of deceased registered donors are black.
But in July this year, he finally had the transplant – becoming the world’s first black and oldest ever patient to have one.
The procedure required 45 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents and research fellows, the hospital said.
Bohdan Pomahač, Director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation at Brigham Health, revealed that Robert has made a quick recovery following his surgery.
He said: “Despite being the oldest face transplant patient at 68, Robert is progressing and recovering remarkably fast.
“We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life.
Chelsea and his family are still reckoning with expensive medical co-payments, travel to and from Boston, paying caregivers, and the need for Chelsea to maintain households in both cities as he recovers.
His family started a GoFundMe campaign to cover costs.