Surgeons in New York claim to have conducted the world’s first complete eye transplant on a man, albeit it is unclear whether he will be able to see again.
Aaron James had 21 hours of surgery to replace half of his face after surviving a high-voltage electrical accident.
For many years, surgeons have successfully transplanted corneas.
Experts see the breakthrough as a watershed moment in the effort to restore sight to millions of individuals.
Mr James, an Arkansas high-voltage utility line worker, lost most of his face in 2021 when it unintentionally touched a 7,200-volt live wire.
In addition to the eye transplant, he underwent a rare partial face transplant on May 27th, involving almost 140 healthcare specialists.
Surgeons at NYU Langone Health, who performed the difficult surgery, said on Thursday that Mr James, 46, was recovering well from the dual transplant and that the donated eye appeared to be in excellent condition. His right eye is still functional.
“The fact that we’ve performed the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat that many had long thought was impossible,” said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, one of the team’s senior surgeons. “We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”
According to doctors, James’ procedure provides science with an unprecedented look into how the human eye attempts to recuperate.
“We’re not claiming we’ll restore sight,” Dr. Rodriguez told ABC News. “But there’s no doubt in my mind we are one step closer.”
According to doctors, there was direct blood flow to the retina, which is the area of the eye that delivers images to the brain. While there is no guarantee that Mr James will regain vision in his new eye, physicians do not rule it out.
“If I can see out of it, that’s great,” Mr James explained in an interview. “But if it’ll kick-start the next path in the medical field, then I’m all for it.”
Mr. James, a combat veteran, will be closely examined by doctors, but the improvement with the eye has been “exceptional,” according to Bruce E. Gelb, MD, a transplant surgeon at New York University.
A single male donor in his 30s provided the donated face and eye. During the procedure, surgeons infused adult stem cells from the donor’s bone marrow into the optic nerve to help it heal.
Mr. James is just the 19th person in the United States to have a face transplant.
Meagan James, his wife of 20 years, told CNN that seeing him after the surgery “was a crazy, great, weird, strange, ecstatic, happy feeling.”
“I was just happy he made it through, and everything was good in the moment.”
Mr James had to have his left eye removed after the accident due to the agony, and he has had multiple surgeries, including one for a prosthetic arm.
He has described the eye transplant as “life changing,” and he is “grateful beyond words” to the donor and their family for making the operation possible.