Clark Man Receives World’s 1st Successful Face Hands Transplant CLARK, NJ — Lifelong Clark resident Joe DiMeo’s one wish was to one day be able to hold a burger or slice of pizza again. As simple as it may sound, DiMeo was unable to live a functional and independent life.
He suffered from third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body from a horrific car crash in 2018 and had to move back in with his parents to help care for all of his basic needs.
Now, thanks to modern medicine, DiMeo made history as the world’s first person to successfully receive a combination face and double hand transplant.
“I feel great,” said 22-year-old DiMeo. “It is just natural smiling and laughing and raising my eyebrows.”
DiMeo’s life forever changed on July 14, 2018, when he was driving on Route 22 in Hillside on his way home from working the night shift. His car went off the road, hit a curb, and flipped over causing an explosion and catching fire.
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A good Samaritan, who happened to be R&B singer Ted Wizard Mills, the original lead singer of the group Blue Magic, pulled DiMeo out of the car. (The rescue was caught on video. Warning: it includes profane language and images that may be disturbing.)
DiMeo says he remembers nothing from the crash.
“People just told me what happened,” DiMeo said.
DiMeo ended up in the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for four months of which he remained in a medically induced coma for nearly two and a half of those months.
“After the coma I realized I can’t do anything by myself and I just laid around all the time,” said DiMeo.
DiMeo moved back in with his parents, Rose and John, who helped care for him as he underwent about 20 reconstructive surgeries.
There was nothing more conventional surgery could do for DiMeo and that’s when he met Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the Director of the Face Transplant Program at NYU Langone Health.
“We just clicked together. We started doing testing and X-rays and a whole bunch of stuff to examine my body for the transplant,” said DiMeo.
In October 2019, Rodriguez said DiMeo was an ideal candidate for the program. However, DiMeo only had a 6 percent chance of having an exact donor match.
Adding in other factors such as bone structure and skin tone matching meant that “finding Joe the perfect donor was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Rodriguez.
Luckily the Gift of Life Donor Program was able to help find a donor in Delaware in August 2020.
“This transplant was possible because a selfless family said yes to this unique donation. The donor’s mother shares that she is proud and comforted that her son was able to help another young man while also saving and healing others through organ and tissue donation. She says her son will always be her angel,” said Richard Hasz Jr. with the Gift of Life Donor Program.