New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Surgeons at NYU Langone perform first-ever eye and partial-face transplant

The procedure, which was performed earlier this year, took over 140 surgeons to complete.
Aaron James received the world’s first whole-eye and partial-face transplant surgery from the team at NYU Langone led by Eduardo Rodriguez. (Courtesy of NYU Langone Staff)

A team of more than 140 surgeons at NYU Langone Health performed the world’s first whole-eye and partial-face transplant earlier this year, according to a recent press release from the medical center. The procedure — led by plastic surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez — involved transplanting patient Aaron James’ entire left eye and a portion of his face from a single donor.

The initial evaluation for the surgery began in June 2022, according to the press release. After James was admitted to NYU Langone in February 2023, he was a potential recipient for the whole-eye and partial-face transplant with the United Network for Organ Sharing — a nonprofit that manages the nation’s organ transplant system. Three months later, LiveOnNY, a New York-based organ procurement organization, identified a potential donor at another hospital in the city. 

“The mere fact that we’ve accomplished the first successful whole-eye transplant with a face is a tremendous feat many have long thought was not possible,” Rodriguez said in the release. “We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”

James received the surgery after losing his left eye, left arm from above the elbow, nose, lips, front teeth, left cheek and chin down to the bone in a high-voltage electrical accident. NYU Langone first learned about James’ condition two months after the incident. Rodriguez asked surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas — where James had been prior to being transferred to NYU Langone — to preserve as much nerve length as possible to increase the chances that he would regain eyesight. 

Since the procedure in May, Vaidehi Dedania, an ophthalmologist at NYU Langone, has been examining James’ new eye regularly.

“Rodriguez approached me about what I think about transplanting the eye; we discussed what the surgical plan was going to be,” Dedania said in an interview with WSN. “We talked about how we are going to assess the eye: whether or not there’s blood flow in the eye, what are certain tests we’re going to do to see how the patient is doing? Those are some of the conversations we had when he first asked me about my thoughts on this.” 

The surgical team at NYU Langone decided to transplant the eye from a young donor in his 30s after Dedania conducted tests to determine whether the donor’s eye was viable and healthy.

Steven Galetta, a neuro-ophthalmologist at NYU Langone, examined James’ eye last week and told WSN that it is maintaining optimal pressure and blood supply. However, James cannot currently perceive light or see through the transplanted eye. Galetta said it will be difficult for James to regain his vision since his optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, was severely injured in the accident.

“It provides a biologic prosthetic to this patient, meaning from a cosmetic point of view, it’s an attractive option as opposed to an artificial eye,” Galetta said.

Contact John Kim at [email protected].

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