In a groundbreaking medical achievement, a team of surgeons in New York announced on Thursday that they had successfully performed the world’s first full eye transplant in a procedure hailed as a major medical breakthrough, although it remains uncertain if the patient will fully regain his sight.
The innovative surgery involved extracting part of the face and the entire left eye from a donor and grafting them onto a 46-year-old recipient who survived a 7,200-volt electrical shock in June 2021. Aaron James suffered severe injuries, including the loss of his left eye, dominant left arm above the elbow, nose, lips, front teeth, left cheek area, and chin down to the bone.
Referred to NYU Langone Health, a leading center for facial reconstruction, James underwent the 21-hour-long operation on May 27. Transplanting an entire eye has long been a goal in medical science. While partial success has been achieved in mice, restoring their partial vision, this remarkable procedure has never before been performed on a living human.
The surgery, led by Dr. Eduardo Rodríguez, utilized specific 3D cutting guides tailored for each patient. Although the transplanted left eye has shown signs of good health, including direct blood flow to the retina responsible for receiving light and sending images to the brain, there is no certainty regarding James’ vision recovery.
James, whose right eye remains intact, was considered an ideal candidate due to his need for a facial transplant, which would require immunosuppressive drugs regardless. Despite the potential cosmetic benefit rather than restoring his vision, the risk-benefit calculation favored the surgery.
Expressing gratitude to the donor and their family, James, who returned to his native Arkansas in September to be with his wife and daughter, remarked, “I hope the family finds solace in knowing that a part of the donor lives on within me.” He continues his monthly follow-up appointments in New York, considering the option of returning to work as a safety supervisor for high-voltage line workers in the future. The groundbreaking procedure opens new doors in the realm of medical science, offering hope while posing unique challenges in the pursuit of restoring human senses and enhancing lives.