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Man, 68, Becomes First Black Person To Have A Full Face Transplant

Man, 68, Becomes First Black Person To Have A Full Face Transplant

A man has become the first black person - and the oldest - to have a full face transplant.

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Robert Chelsea 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.

Speaking to Time, the 68-year-old said he actually turned down a first face doctors found for him as the donor had lighter skin and he wanted to wait for a better match.

After undergoing surgery at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital in July this year, Robert's story highlights the difficulties black patients face in the United States.

Robert told the publication: "May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance.

Robert with his godson. Credit: ABC
Robert with his godson. Credit: ABC
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"Words cannot describe how I feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift."

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 drive 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.

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Robert had waited six years for his new face. Credit: lightchaser photography
Robert had waited six years for his new face. Credit: lightchaser photography

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

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."

Robert before the crash. Credit: GoFundMe
Robert before the crash. Credit: GoFundMe

Five years after the crash, Robert said with the help of his Christian faith he had come to terms with the way he looked, joking that he was "no knockout looker" before it happened.

But more than half a decade after that life-changing moment, Robert has made history, though speaking before his surgery he admitted it was something he's trying to come to terms with.

"There is a degree of pride, admittedly," he said. "And yet I'm not sure that it's something to be proud of. To celebrate an individual because they haven't done anything any more than anybody else, they just happened to be there at the right time ... there's nothing holy about those actions."

Yet, despite having improved his life, Robert admitted he couldn't help thinking about the family of the man whose face he now has.

He said: "Losing a loved one and being asked something like this ... I can't imagine. I do feel hopeful that I can pick up some of the pieces that the family may have lost."

Featured Image Credit: lightchaser photography

Topics: Interesting, US News, Technology, Health

Dominic Smithers

Dominic graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in French and History. Like you, Dom has often questioned how much use a second language has been. Well, after stints working at the Manchester Evening News, the Accrington Observer and the Macclesfield Express, along with never setting foot in France, he realised the answer is surprisingly little. But I guess, c'est la vie. Contact us at [email protected]