New York surgeons claim to have conducted the world’s first whole-eye transplant on a man, marking a significant turning point in the history of the medical field, though it’s unclear if the patient will recover vision.
Aaron James, who survived a high-voltage electrical accident, underwent a 21-hour surgery to replace half of his face, marking a significant breakthrough, according to experts, in the quest to restore sight to millions of people.
James, a high-voltage utility line worker from Arkansas lost most of his face in 2021 after he accidentally touched a 7,200-volt live wire.
He underwent a rare partial face and eye transplant, on 27 May this year involving over 140 healthcare professionals.
The intricate procedure was carried out by surgeons at New York University (NYU) Langone Health, who said on Thursday that James, 46, was making a full recovery from the dual transplant and that the donated eye appeared exceptionally healthy. His right eye still works.
“The mere fact that we’ve accomplished the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat many have long thought was not possible,” said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, one of the leading surgeons on the team.
“We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”
Doctors say James’ surgery offers scientists an unprecedented window into how the human eye tries to heal, BBC reported.
“We’re not claiming that we are going to restore sight,” Dr Rodriguez told ABC News. “But there’s no doubt in my mind we are one step closer.”
While there is no certainty James will regain vision in his new eye, doctors do not rule out the possibility either.
“If I can see out of it, that’s great,” James said in an interview. “But if it’ll kick-start the next path in the medical field, then I’m all for it.”
James, a military veteran, will continue to be monitored by doctors but has seen “exceptional” progress with his eye transplant, according to Bruce E Gelb, MD, a transplant surgeon at NYU.
The donated face and eye came from a male donor in his 30s, and stem cells were injected into the optic nerve for repair.
James is only the 19th person in the US to undergo a face transplant.
He has called the eye transplant “life-changing” and says he is “grateful beyond words” to the donor and their family for making the surgery possible.