New York University Langone Medical Center announced Wednesday that it had performed a full eye and part of his face transplant on the left eye of an American man who was severely disfigured by electric shock, the world's first full eye transplant. The patient recovered well after the operation, his appearance was greatly improved, and although he still had no vision in his left eye, he had "feeling".
The patient, Alan James, 46, is an electrician who accidentally touched a high-voltage wire in his face at work in June 2021 and suffered a 7,200 volt electric shock, losing his nose, lips, left cheek and chin, front teeth and left arm. His left eye had to be removed because of excessive pain, but doctors had to preserve as much of the optic nerve as possible in case of a left eye transplant.
A team led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez at Langone Medical Center performed a full eye and partial face transplant on James' left eye on May 27. The operation took about 21 hours and involved more than 140 people.
In the full-eye transplant, a type of mature stem cell taken from the organ donor's bone marrow was injected into the area where the optic nerve of the transplanted left eye connects to the optic nerve of James' left eye to encourage optic nerve regeneration.
James was released from the hospital on September 14 and returned to his home in Arkansas. For now, he needs monthly check-ups at Langone Medical Center.
Langone Medical Center said that while it is not yet known whether James will regain sight in his left eye, there are some indications that his eye is in good condition, such as the blood supply to his retina.
According to the Associated Press, James was unable to open his left eye when he was examined last month, but he felt it when the doctor pressed on his eyelid. But the feeling is on the nose, not on the eyelids. According to doctors, nerve growth is slow, and when nerve conduction is fully restored, the site of sensation will change.
Doctors opened the left eyelid and saw that the transplanted eyeball was as moist and full as James' intact right eye and did not shrink as quickly after surgery as had been feared. Only, the transplanted eye was brown, while James' own was blue.
James was very pleased with the results of the operation. "I can smell, I can eat, I can taste food… I kissed my wife for the first time. I want to go out in front of people without having to cover myself up with a mask."
The structure of the eyeball is complex and delicate, and the whole eye transplantation involves many technical difficulties, such as nerve regeneration, anti-rejection and blood supply to the retina. The Rodriguez medical team decided that even if a full eye transplant could only improve his appearance but not restore his vision, it would be worth it for James to have the surgery because he would need anti-rejection drugs even if he only had a face transplant.
James said he was willing to be the first "Patient Zero" to receive a full-eye transplant, and if the surgery does not restore the sight of his left eye, it will at least give him a normal-looking eye and allow doctors to learn from the operation for the benefit of other patients.