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Father, 68, Opens Up About Life After Face Transplant Operation

Dominic Smithers

| Last updated 

Father, 68, Opens Up About Life After Face Transplant Operation

The man who became the first African-American to receive a full face transplant, has spoken out about life since the ground-breaking operation.


Robert Chelsea, from California, the US, had been waiting six years for the procedure while doctors tried to find a donor with the same skin tone so he didn't look like a completely different person.

But now seven months on from the surgery at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, the 68-year-old father is still adjusting to things, with doctors predicting that he will be able to eat and drink normally within the year.

Speaking to CBS2, he admitted that it was still strange seeing another man's face in the mirror.

He said: "My skin has not fully healed. If you're asking me how I feel about having someone else's face, it is very different."

Credit: CBSLA
Credit: CBSLA

But he is now just excited about the prospect of finally being able to embrace his daughter, Ebony, again.

He added: "It's always nice to be able to kiss her cheeks. And, for her, she would be able to kiss mine."

According to reports, Robert is awaiting an evaluation next month to determine whether the transplant shows any signs of being rejected.

If not, he will be put on a course of medication to help with the healing process and may not have to undergo any further operations.

Robert before the accident. Credit: GoFundMe
Robert before the accident. Credit: GoFundMe

The dad's life changed in 2013 when he was waiting for his car to cool down by the side of a freeway in Los Angeles. A drunk driver swerved into the left-hand shoulder - where Robert was waiting inside his vehicle - crashing into him. His car was engulfed in flames.

As a result of the devastating incident, he suffered burns to more than 60 percent of his face and body, he lost his lips, part of his nose, and his left ear.

In the months that followed, Robert underwent 18 surgeries at University of California Irving Medical Center in a bid to graft skin onto his body and repair the damage caused.

At the time, one of his surgeons, Dr Victor Joe, said he was 'one of the sickest patients we've had'.

He underwent a ground-breaking 16-hour operation to get his new face. Credit: ABC News
He underwent a ground-breaking 16-hour operation to get his new face. Credit: ABC News

In the US, black patients face a longer waiting time than white patients for major organs such as hearts, kidneys, and lungs. This is due, in part, to the fact that African Americans make up just 13 percent of the country's population but 30 percent of the transplant waiting list.

Looking back at the months and years that followed his tragic incident, Robert said people would stare at him as he passed by.

But whereas some may have been offended, Robert understood their shock.

"Do you see the way they look at me? It's cute. They're curious," he said. "I don't blame them, it's scary. It's like I'm wearing a Halloween mask."

Featured Image Credit: CBSLA

Topics: Science, Interesting, US News

Dominic Smithers
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