First African American man to receive face transplant is 'on the road to recovery'

First African American man to receive face transplant is 'on the road to recovery'

The very first African American man to undergo a full face transplant is recovering well after receiving the groundbreaking procedure, TIME has reported.

Robert Chelsea was left severely disfigured after being hit by a drunk driver back in 2013. His injuries required 30 surgeries, which in turn led to Chelsea spending half a year in the hospital. Despite their best efforts, his doctors were unable to reconstruct part of his nose, his left ear, and his lips - which has made eating and drinking particularly difficult (Chelsea would have to tilt his head back in order to keep food in his mouth).

However, despite the challenges he faced, Chelsea insisted on waiting for the right match for a new face - knowing too well it could be years before the right donor was found. This is due to the fact there is a lack of black donors of any type - with only 17% of African American patients needing an organ transplant eventually receiving one in 2015, compared to 30% for white patients, per Yahoo News.

Chelsea was first offered a donor face back in May of 2018, but he turned it down as a result of the skin tone being so much lighter than his own. Fortunately, a match was found earlier this year, and at the age of 68-years-old, Chelsea now has a new face after undergoing the transplant back in July - after spending a year and a half on the transplant list.

Check out this video diary of Robert's journey below:

Speaking to TIME, Chelsea explained how he was fearful about becoming "a totally different looking person", but now he is "on the road to recovery" and is looking to the future. In a statement, Chelsea said:

"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's donor was a 62-year-old man who had suddenly died. Speaking about the importance of the man's donation, Chelsea told TIME: "Losing a loved one and being asked something like this … I can’t imagine. I do feel hopeful that I can pick up some of the pieces that the family may have lost."

Overall, Chelsea wants to use his experience to teach others the importance of looking out for one another: "I was concerned about humanity way before this surgery. We must help one another. That’s the way I felt, and this experience has only validated that even more."

Alexandra Glazier, President and CEO of New England Donor Services of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston - the hospital that performed Chelsea’s transplant - said in a statement:

"It is vitally important for individuals of all races and ethnicities to consider organ donation, including the donation of external grafts, such as face and hands. Unlike internal organs, the skin tone of the donor may be important to finding a match."