In July 2018, Joe was driving home after working the night shift when his car veered off the road and flipped over. He survived, but was left with third-degree burns on more than 80 percent of his body. Even after 20 reconstructive surgeries, his injuries—amputated fingertips, severe facial scarring, and no lips or eyelids—limited his ability to lead an independent life.
In March 2019, Joe met with Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS, and his team at NYU Langone’s Face Transplant Program to be evaluated. Dr. Rodriguez believed the then 20-year-old New Jersey resident was an excellent candidate for a face and double hand transplant—a procedure that had been performed only twice before by other surgical teams, without success.
Dr. Rodriguez, who had led three successful face transplants, and his team began preparing for the complex procedure. Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team held monthly rehearsals to plan every aspect of surgery so they would be ready when the time came.
After the accident, Joe received multiple blood transfusions and skin grafts, which made his immune system highly sensitized. As a result, Joe had only a 6 percent chance of finding a compatible donor. But just 10 months after he was put on the waitlist, a donor was identified.
“I am very grateful to be given a second chance.”—Joe, Age 22
Led by Dr. Rodriguez, a team of more than 140 physicians, nurses, and support staff began the 23-hour surgery on August 12, 2020, marking the world’s first successful face and double hand transplant. By following a unique immunosuppression regimen and close monitoring, doctors kept Joe’s body from rejecting the face and hand transplants in those first critical months after the surgery.
After nearly 14 weeks at NYU Langone, which began with recovering in the intensive care unit, followed by daily therapy at Rusk Rehabilitation, Joe was able to go home. He is returning to his daily routines and the activities he enjoyed before the accident, such as feeding and dressing himself, lifting weights, and playing golf.
“My parents and I are incredibly thankful to the donor and to Dr. Rodriguez and his team who have helped me get to where I am today,” Joe says.