Los Angeles native, Robert Chelsea, car burst into flames when his vehicle was hit by a drunk driver in 2013. Trapped inside, he suffered burns over 60% of his body and face and was hospitalized for almost a year and half. He was in a coma the first six months. After undergoing extensive surgeries, more than 30, surgeons were unable to reconstruct parts of his face including his lips, nose and ear.
At age 68, Chelsea recently received a full facial transplant according to the press release from Brigham and Women’s Hospital where the surgery was performed. According to the transplant team, “Despite being the oldest face transplant patient, Robert is progressing and recovering remarkably fast.”
Chelsea also happens to be the first African-American to receive a full facial transplant.
Jamie Ducharme who covered the story for Times wrote, “Robert Chelsea turned down the first face he was offered. It was a fine face, one that could have taken him off the transplant waiting list after just a couple months. But Chelsea—severely disfigured after a catastrophic car accident five years earlier—was in no hurry. He’d gotten used to tilting his head back so food and water wouldn’t fall out of his nearly lipless mouth. He knew how to respond compassionately to children who stared in shock and fear. The face, offered in May 2018, had belonged to a man with skin that was much fairer than what remained of Chelsea’s—so light that Chelsea, who is African American, couldn’t bear the thought of becoming ‘a totally different looking person.’”
Chelsea, a registered organ donor, had no idea how difficult it would be to receive organ and tissue donations. He received skin grafts that matched Chelsea’s skin tone “but never quite mimicked its texture; Chelsea called it his ‘snakeskin.’ All told, he would eventually carry the skin of three different people,” according to the Time article.
“Morning by morning, new versions of me unfold,” Ducharme quoted Chelsea as saying on the day he was discharged from the hospital in August, nearly a month after surgery, “But I feel like myself.” Other sources quoted Chelsea as saying he was grateful to the donor and family for this second chance.