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Man who narrowly survived electrical accident receives world’s first eye transplant

An Arkansas man has a brand new eye after being the topic of the first-ever human eye transplant in Could.

The attention transplant was a part of a posh partial-face transplant carried out by a workforce of surgeons at NYU Langone Well being in New York Metropolis. Aaron James, a high-voltage utility line employee, misplaced most of his face in a piece accident in June 2021, when it unintentionally touched a 7,200 volt dwell wire whereas out on a job.

Dr. Eddie Rodriguez, considered one of James’ docs for the transplant, mentioned it isn’t an harm many would have survived.

“He was alive. They bring him down. They rush him to the regional burn unit,” Rodriguez mentioned. “And he’s in bad shape. They have to amputate his arm (above the elbow), so right at the midarm. His face is destroyed … Forget about replacing the arms, the face. We gotta keep this guy alive.”

Aaron James within the hospital after his harm.

The James household


James, 46 mentioned he does not “remember any of it,” however when he awakened, he had misplaced his nostril, his entrance enamel, his left eye and his dominant left hand. He additionally misplaced his chin all the way down to the bone, 20% of his tongue, his left cheek, and his lips. After a number of reconstructive surgical procedures, he could not eat or drink usually, and had hassle talking, so he agreed to endure the face transplant, together with the world’s first transplant of a donor eye. The transplant got here from a single donor, making it “the only successful combined transplant case of its kind,” in keeping with NYU Langone Well being. The donor was a person in his 30s who donated tissue to a few different folks, in addition to James.

“A whole eye transplant’s never been done,” defined Rodriguez, who carried out the world’s first profitable face and double hand transplant in 2020. His colleagues had been skeptical of the concept of a face and eye transplant, however James was instantly on board.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Rodriguez recalled. “He said, ‘If I can help out other people and then I can help out other soldiers, it’s worth it. He had three tours … He knows the value of helping out his fellow soldier.”

James served within the Military Nationwide Guard and accomplished excursions in Egypt, Kuwait and Iraq, in keeping with NYU Langone Well being.

Dr. Vaidehi Dedania grew to become concerned within the surgical procedure as James’ eye specialist. Dedania, an affiliate professor of ophthalmology and the director of the Vitreoretinal Surgical procedure Fellowship at NYU, is a retina professional who labored to see if the brand new eye may really ship the fitting indicators to the mind to course of a picture, restoring James’ sight.

In late Could, Rodriguez and the surgical workforce spent 21 hours in surgical procedure, transferring the donor’s face, eye socket and eye to James. An enormous problem was offering blood circulation to the transplanted eye.

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NYU Langone surgeons throughout James’ transplant.

Joe Carrot / NYU Langone


“It was an exhilarating moment to just see that blood supply coming to the retina,” Rodriguez mentioned.

The workforce additionally needed to fear about nerve regeneration and immune rejection. These issues are a part of what have made whole-eye transplants so elusive, NYU Langone mentioned. The analysis workforce mixed the donor eye with donor bone marrow-derived stem cells in an try to boost the nerve regeneration — one thing that had by no means been tried earlier than. These bone marrow cells had been injected into James’ optic nerve throughout the surgical procedure.

After a couple of weeks within the hospital and a few rehabilitation, James was thought-about recovered from the transplant. He mentioned he nonetheless has some hassle talking, however that has gotten higher, and he is working to regain feeling in his lips and get his jaw to open greater than it at present can. In accordance with NYU Langone, he can now do issues that had been beforehand unattainable, like eat strong meals. The transplant has additionally boosted his confidence.

“It just blows my mind,” James mentioned. “I tell everybody, if I get close to a mirror, I just stare at it. … Now I want to go outside and let people see me, you know?”

Nevertheless, a query nonetheless remained: Would mild shone into the transplanted eye be acknowledged by the a part of the mind that processes imaginative and prescient?

To seek out out, James underwent two useful MRIs, which measure small modifications in blood circulation that occur with mind exercise. Dedania mentioned the workforce first confirmed that James had blood provide, strain within the eyeball, and a wholesome retina, then put vivid mild into his eye and measured the retina’s electrical response.

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Aaron James and his household after his surgical procedure.

Russ Geltman / NYU Langone


“What that showed us was that the photoreceptor cells … were actually sending a signal back,” Dedania mentioned. “That’s the moment where we were saying, ‘Wow, so there’s blood supply. The cells are still preserved, and he’s able to, at least the retina is able to respond to a stimulus such as light.”

Dedania and Rodriguez examined it with one other useful MRI, the place they labored with a analysis workforce and neuroradiologist. First, the workforce lined James’ transplanted eye and flashed a lightweight. That picture was usually recorded within the visible cortex, Rodriguez mentioned.

Subsequent, the workforce lined James’ useful eye and examined the transplanted one.

“We saw a response back there!” Dedania mentioned. “Can we be more astonished? Every level, every test has further increased our understanding of how this eye is functioning within his body.”

Whereas James was in a position to course of the sunshine, the sight in that eye has nonetheless not been restored. Dedania was skeptical that it could return absolutely, however mentioned she would “never say never.” James will proceed to be examined to see if his sight could be restored.

“This is unprecedented. The question is, is it possible? Yes,” Dedania mentioned.

“We don’t have sight yet, but I’m an optimist,” Rodriguez mentioned. “The one thing for sure that I can say now is that we are one step closer.”

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