68-year-old man is the first black patient to receive a face transplant

"It is vitally important for individuals of all races and ethnicities to consider organ donation."
BRIGHAM HEALTH BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL DEPARTMENT OF PLASTIC SURGERY DOCTOR BOHDAN POMAHAC MEETS WITH FACE TRANSPLANT PATIENT ROBERT CHELSEA
Robert Chelsea, the first African American recipient of a face transplant, after his surgery.J. Kiely Jr. / Lightchaser photography

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By Erika Edwards

In a medical first, doctors have performed a full face transplant on a black patient, a man from Los Angeles.

Robert Chelsea, 68, is also the oldest patient to undergo the surgery, which was performed at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance," Chelsea said in a statement. "I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift."

Chelsea, seen here before his face transplant, was disfigured in a fiery car accident in 2013.J. Kiely Jr. / Lightchaser photography

Chelsea was disfigured in 2013 when a drunk driver slammed into his car, sparking a fire. He suffered burns over most of his body and his face.

He was put on the face transplant waiting list at Brigham and Women's Hospital in 2018. He and his doctors waited until they found a donor with a skin tone that matched Chelsea's.

"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," Alexandra Glazier, president of the New England Donor Services, said in a statement.

"Unlike internal organs, the skin tone of the donor may be important to finding a match."

It took 16 hours for a team of more than 45 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and others to perform the groundbreaking surgery.

"Robert is progressing and recovering remarkably fast," Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, head of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said.

This is the ninth face transplant performed at the hospital.

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