At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, yet another transplant milestone has been recorded: Robert Chelsea, 68 became the first black patient—and the oldest—to receive a full face transplant this past July.
Chelsea, who lost his lips and part of his nose and left ear to burns sustained in a car accident, had waited a year and a half for a face that would match his skin tone—far longer than the typical four-to-six month wait for the Brigham’s 14 prior full face transplant patients. Donor advocates hope that the news of Chelsea’s surgery will inspire more people of color to become organ donors. African-Americans represent nearly a third of patients waiting for a donor organ.
For the Brigham, which performed the nation’s first full face transplant in 2011, the procedure reflects the institution’s commitments to both reversing health disparities and innovating organ donation. For Chelsea, the successful surgery represents a new start; according to Brigham data, face transplant patients typically achieve about 60 percent restoration of facial motor function, including the ability to eat, smile, and speak normally, within one year.
“Despite being the oldest face transplant patient at 68, Robert is progressing and recovering remarkably fast,” says Bohdan Pomahac, MD, the Roberta and Stephen R. Weiner Distinguished Chair in Surgery and director of Plastic Surgery Transplantation at Brigham Health. “We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life.”
Read more in The Boston Globe.