‘We got world first transplants – from pig heart to bionic penis and whole face’

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    Losing a body part or having one that doesn't function correctly can be a traumatic experience.

    But, these few people were given a second chance at being able to live a 'normal' life once again thanks to pioneering surgery. Remarkably, with medical breakthroughs, these patients received 'world' first' transplants – that helped restore anything from their face to their penis.

    And one person even underwent surgery to connect a heart from a genetically modified pig. Here, we've taken a look at the extraordinary people and their first-of-its kind transplant operations – and the gruelling injuries they endured.

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    World's first face and double hand transplant

    Joe DiMeo, 24,from the US, received the world's first face and double hand transplant after surviving a horror car crash.

    He fell asleep at the wheel while coming back from a night shift back in 2018. He then hit a curb, crashed into a utility pole and flipped several times before a fiery blaze engulfed his vehicle.

    Luckily, a heroic stranger pulled Joe out of his car. He sustained 80% burns all over his body which scorched off the likes of his eyelids and lips – and even had to have his fingertips amputated.

    Joe was referred to NYU Langone, an academic medical centre, and was offered a face and double hand transplant. This would become the world's first successful attempt of the 23-hour long procedure.

    The young lad is now able to live life once again thanks to the team of 140 medical professionals – including leading surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez – and his 47-year-old donor.

    "I think it's my face," Joe told us in an exclusive interview. "Leading up to the surgery the thought of someone else's face on me but didn't have that thought afterwards.

    "I was just ready for the therapy, and that's all I've been focused on – the therapy. I didn't really care about how I looked as I went for a whole year with a burnt face, well I'd rather have a swollen face than a burnt one.

    "So having somebody else's face, it didn't really matter to me. It was just getting back to the training of the hands and stuff like that."

    For the rest of his life, Joe will be in recovery. Since his accident, he's had over 20 reconstructive surgeries and will continue to receive treatment. He documents his transplant journey on TikTok to his fanbase of over 133,000 followers.

    World's first penis transplant

    A 21-year-old lad was the first ever patient to undergo a penis transplant after he lost his goods during a botched circumcision.

    The South African man, who has remained anonymous, was left with less than an inch of his penis from developing gangrene after the procedure when he was only 18.

    Although a penis transplant occurred in 2014, this was from a dead donor. So, top urologist Andre van der Merwe – nicknamed 'Dr Dick' – decided that the teen needed a penis from an alive donor to understand the sexual history of it.

    The ground-breaking surgeon performed the operation that involved taking a skin graft from the inside of the patient's leg along with some tattooing to make sure that the new penis matched the recipient's skin. "This is a very serious situation," he told South African Sunday Times. "For a young man of 18 or 19 years the loss of his penis can be deeply traumatic."

    Thanks to 'Dr Dick's' impressive work, the lad can now get an erection and ejaculate once again.

    Speaking to the BBC, the surgeon added: "If you don't have a penis you are essentially dead, if you give a penis back you can bring them back to life."

    World's first whole eye transplant

    Aaron James, 46, from Hot Springs, Arkansas, survived a freak accident after his entire face was almost electrocuted off while at work.

    The dad was tending to a job for his powerline company when he accidently touched a 7,200-volt live wire that caused him injuries that rendered him unrecognisable. In the 2021 accident, the US veteran lost his nose, lips and had to have his left eye removed due to it being so badly damaged and painful.

    He also lost his right arm in the near fatal electrocution. Until May 2023, Aaron was walking around 'faceless'. But surgeons at NYU Langone managed to perform a world first surgery on Aaron that he says to be "life changing."

    The dad and husband underwent the 21 hour surgery where a team of 140 healthcare professionals performed the world's first entire eye and partial face transplant, that was from a donor in his 30s.

    Although Aaron can't see out of his new eye yet, it's helped him look like a "normal person walking down the street", a remark he told BBC News. "It feels good. I still don't have any movement in it yet," Aaron explained in a check-up with his doctors. "My eyelid, I can't blink yet. But I'm getting sensation now."

    "You got to start somewhere, there's got to be a first person somewhere. Maybe you'll learn something from it that will help the next person."

    Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, who performed the surgery on Aaron and also Joe DiMeo, said to ABC News: "We're not claiming that we are going to restore sight. But there's no doubt in my mind we are one step closer."

    World's first face transplant

    While Joe DiMeo received the world's face and double hand transplant, Isabelle Dinoire was the recipient of solely the first face transplant.

    The mum-of-two, from France, suffered horrific injuries after her beloved dog mauled the majority of her lower face off. The incident occurred when Isabelle took an overdose of sleeping pills in 2005.

    When she woke, Isabelle noticed a huge pool of blood around her and "couldn't believe" what she was staring at when she looked in the mirror.

    Isabelle sadly lost her lips, chin and the majority of her nose. She was then rushed to the hospital where she was a patient under a top surgeon who said that her injuries were too complex for a standard facial reconstruction.

    The mum waited months and felt she had the "face of a monster" as she waited in hospital for a face donor – but the procedure had never been performed before due to the difficulties of connecting the nose and mouth.

    Despite having a 33% success rate, Isabelle beat the odds and has had a new lease of life for 10 years. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.

    Isabelle's body started to reject her new face which caused her to lose "part of the use of her lips" in 2015, according to local newspapers. She also had to take immunosuppressants every day to stop her face from disintegrating – which ultimately weakened her immune system.

    Tragically, Isabelle died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 49.

    World's first pig heart to human transplant

    David Bennett, 57, underwent the world's first surgery that transplanted a genetically-modified pig's heart into his body.

    The US citizen had terminal heart disease and was told that he was 'ineligible' for a human heart transplant, the first was received in 1967 by Louis Washkansky, who was 53 at the time.

    But in January 2022, David would undergo a different kind of 'world first' surgery that helped prolong his life for a matter of weeks. Sadly, David died in March that year.

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    "We are devastated by the loss of Mr Bennett. He proved to be a brave and noble patient who fought all the way to the end. We extend our sincerest condolences to his family,” said Dr Bartley P Griffith, a Professor of Transplant Surgery at the University of Maryland (UMSOM).

    "Mr Bennett became known by millions of people around the world for his courage and steadfast will to live."

    Although, the genetically-modified pig's heart did show promising signs at first before David's body began to reject it. He was able to spend quality time with family and even went through physical therapy to help regain strength.

    Dr Griffith added: "As with any first-in-the-world transplant surgery, this one led to valuable insights that will hopefully inform transplant surgeons to improve outcomes and potentially provide lifesaving benefits to future patients."

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