In July 2018, DiMeo fell asleep at the wheel, he said, after working a night shift as a product tester for a drug company. He lost control, and the auto hit the curb, flipping over before bursting into flames.
New Jersey resident Joe DiMeo is seen hospitalized after a 2018 vehicle crash caused third-degree burns to over 80% of his body. His fingertips were amputated and he lost his lips and eyelids. He also had severe scarring on his face and neck that limited his range of motion.
Just two years later, a revolutionary procedure is giving DiMeo his life back: The 22-year-old was the recipient of the first successful face and double hand transplant.
DiMeo tells News 12 Dr. Rodriguez and his team changed his life.
But in August 2020, a donor in DE was found (the donor has not been identified).
But simultaneous hand-face transplants have only been tried twice before. 'So fundamentally there was no reason why they couldn't occur together, successfully'.
"All of us unanimously agree that Joe is the ideal patient", said Rodriguez.
'Joe is healthy, he's young, he's strong, he loves to exercise, he eats healthy, and he had that one special element which is going to be required for this operation, ' Rodriguez said, 'A high level of motivation. "There's a tremendous sense of pride". Overall, the procedure saw the involvement of a 16-member surgical team and an 80-member group that made up the operating room staff.
In one, the hands and facial tissue of a dying donor were carefully removed and replaced with 3D printed prosthetics.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift, and I hope the family can take some comfort knowing that part of the donor lives on with me", he said. 'In all these operations it's important to recognize that someone must give up their life so that others can continue living'.
Once it became clear conventional surgeries could not help him regain full vision or use of his hands, DiMeo's medical team began preparing for the risky transplant in early 2019.
Mr Rodriguez says Mr DiMeo, who does up to five hours of rehab a day, is the "most highly motivated patient" he has ever met.
DiMeo is still getting used to his hands and face. Each structure had to be labeled, he added, to ensure proper reassembly. DiMeo can feel his new forehead and hands get cold, and often reaches up to push his long hair off of his face. Nerves and vasculature were spliced together, to bring blood and eventually feeling to the tissue. Forty-five days in intensive care came next, followed by almost two months of inpatient rehab, Dimeo learned to open his new eyelids, to move his new hands, and to smile.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own.
"Driving is the biggest goal I have so far", he said.
"I knew it would be baby steps all the way", DiMeo said.
"The fact they could pull it off is phenomenal", said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital who led the second such attempt.
'My hands aren't there yet. "I've got to keep practicing".
Papay said that face and hand transplants can be just as vital as organ transplant surgeries.
'There's always light at the end of the tunnel, ' Dimeo said.
"Never give up and never let your appearance slow you down".