Californian Becomes 1st Black Patient to Receive Full Face Transplant

Robert Chelsea, 68, of Los Angeles, was also the oldest patient to receive a full face transplant when he had the surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in July

BRIGHAM HEALTH BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL DEPARTMENT OF PLASTI
Lightchaser Photography / J. Kiely Jr.

A California man became the first black patient — and oldest patient — to receive a full face transplant, Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital said Thursday, after a 16-hour procedure several months ago. 

Robert Chelsea, 68, of Los Angeles — who suffered burns to over 60% of his body and face after his car was struck by a drunk driver in 2013 — had the surgery in July, according to hospital officials.

Chelsea had been on the donor waitlist longer than previous recipients due to his skin tone, hospital officials said.

The 16-hour surgery was led by Dr. Bohdan Pomahac and involved more than 45 physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, residents and research fellows.

Chelsea's surgery was the ninth performed at Brigham and the 15th in the county, the hospital said.

The California resident had undergone 30 surgeries but doctors had been unable to reconstruct his lips, parts of his nose and left ear.

"Despite being the oldest face transplant patient at 68, Robert is progressing and recovering remarkably fast," Pomahac said in a statement. "We are looking forward to seeing a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life."

"May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance," Chelsea said in a statement. "Words cannot describe how I feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift."

The hospital performed its first full face transplant in 2011.

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