A team of surgeons in New York announced Thursday they had performed the world’s first transplant of an entire eye in a procedure widely hailed as a medical breakthrough, although it isn’t yet known whether the recipient will regain his sight.
The groundbreaking surgery involved removing part of the face and the whole left eye of a donor and grafting them onto a line worker from Arkansas who survived a 7,200-volt electric shock in June 2021 when his face touched a live wire.
Aaron James, 46, suffered extensive injuries, including the loss of his left eye, his dominant left arm above the elbow, his nose and lips, front teeth, left cheek area, and chin.
He was referred to NYU Langone Health, a leading medical center for facial transplants, which carried out the procedure on May 27.
Transplanting an entire eye has long been a holy grail of medical science, and though researchers have had some success in mice — where they have restored partial vision — it’s never before been performed in a living person.
“We always talk about a second chance at life — he’s been given a second chance,” said Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the 21-hour-surgery that made use of 3D cutting guides, which allowed surgeons to remove segments of bone from the donor and placed them precisely in James.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect patient,” he added, praising James for undergoing the extremely risky surgery so that others in his situation could benefit in the future.
The transplanted left eye appears very healthy, said retinal ophthalmologist Vaidehi Dedania. It has a good blood supply, is maintaining its pressure, and is generating an electrical signal, though James is not yet able to see. “But we have a lot of hope,” she added.