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03rd Jul 2023

Man, 24, who underwent world’s first face and double hand transplant finds love


He now has the face of a 48-year-old man

The first person to ever have a successful face and double hand transplant has revealed he now had a face twice his age and that he’s found love.

Joe DiMeo, 24, suffered third-degree burns to 80 per cent of his body and had his fingertips amputated after his Dodge Challenger crashed and burst into flames in July 2018.

The 24-year-old underwent 20 reconstructive plastic surgeries and skin grafts before spending 23 hours in August 2020 having the pioneering surgery.

He’s now revealed details about his face donor for the first time – a 48-year-old male stroke victim.

Joe, from New Jersey, said: “It didn’t feel weird being given the face of someone nearly twice my age because I was just completely ready to start my life again.

“This is who I am now and I came to terms with that quite quickly really.”

Joe also revealed he has finally found love with his girlfriend Jessica Koby, 32. The pair got together after Jessica messaged Joe on Instagram two years ago after reading about his story.

Joe has told how his friends abandoned him after his accident – but says he doesn’t miss them because it proves they weren’t true mates.

He has now recovered so well he can lift himself out of bed and even drive again.

Joe says it is “amazing” to be more independent and also revealed a fellow burns survivor told him hearing his story stopped them from committing suicide.”

He says after suffering horrific burns, “I was not looking for love but I was always confident it would happen eventually because I am the same on the inside.”

Joe continued: “Nothing has changed besides my skin. Now it’s really just amazing getting independence again.

“After surgery I was like at zero per cent – I couldn’t really do anything. Now I feel like I’m at 50 per cent. I can cook, clean, do laundry and I can move my phone better.

“I can drive again. I just drive my girlfriend’s Subaru Crosstrek. I don’t have my own car yet.”

Joe said he never thought his recovery could motivate people, “until someone DM’d me saying ‘you saved me from suicide’.”

“I never thought I could do that with my story and that has pushed me to share it more and more. I have had a couple of burnt people hit me up about how to cope. I just tell them to just keep acting how you’ve always acted.

“You’ll find out who your real friends are doing that. It’s way easier said than done, and I always say that too.”

Joe and Jessica’s relationship blossomed as they bonded over their shared love for Boston Terrier dogs – and they now share Buster, six, and Kirkland, seven.

Jessica, a nurse, said: “We developed a relationship initially long distance and then I moved from southern California to be closer to him and it has been great ever since.

“He is a pretty quiet guy so at first when you’re just getting to know him he keeps to himself and just observes his surroundings.

“He is very knowledgeable and anyone he talks to he can carry a conversation with.

“I really like that about him because I think that someone who is educated and speaks well is very attractive.

“I love that he is gentle, kind and he is so courageous.

“For everything he has gone through, he remains so positive and such a light. “I love Joe inside and out because he is a funny guy, he knew what he wanted in life and was very mature for his age.”

Joe’s accident happened when he fell asleep at the wheel on his way home from a night shift working in a food testing laboratory in Hillside, New Jersey.

“My car veered off the side of the road, hit a curb, flipped a couple of times and then caught on fire,” Joe recalled.

“I had a mod that scraped the curb which created a spark and then the oil pan cracked in the impact and then they just created a flame.

“I was 80% burnt. They had to amputate my fingertips to the second knuckle and then they had to suture my eyelids because they were burned. It was like looking out of a chain link fence.

“I was ready for the transplant when it was offered to me. I didn’t want to live how I was living.”

It took a team of 140 surgeons, nurses and support staff at NYU Langone hospital in New York City to pull off the pioneering surgery in August 2020 – which had only been attempted twice before.

“My donor was a 48-year-old stroke victim from Delaware who died two days before my surgery,” he said.

“That’s literally all I know because the doctors flat out refused to tell me any more.

“I’ve never had any contact from his family or friends or anyone who knew him.

“I even wanted a guy or a girl just to make the process faster.

“I told my doctor I would prefer a girl’s face just so I wouldn’t have to shave all the time!

“They took the skin and then the muscles, the tendons, the nerves and all the little veins that are attached to it to get the blood to flow to the skin.

“It was really intense when I came round. As soon as I woke up I had nurses and occupational therapists on me instantly.

“It was super difficult. For the first couple of weeks I wasn’t physically able to even move my fingers. They would have to move them for me just so the muscle memory could get there.

“I was trying to get muscle memory by pinching each finger and then pretending to pick up foam cubes and trying to grab a water bottle.

“When people saw me for the first time, my parents were happy and everyone was happy for me.

“When I had the accident, I lost a lot of fake friends. “It was sad to see my fake friends all go but then you realise who your real friends are and you appreciate them more. “So all I had left was my real friends and they have always supported me in whatever I wanted to do.”

Joe said people now “look at me”, but he isn’t bothered.

“I’m 6”1’ and wide and then on top of that, I wear short sleeves a lot of the time so you can see my burnt arms.

“So I don’t mind people staring because I would stare too.

“I could do a pity party but that’s just not me.”

Joe, who will be on medication for the rest of his life, is now writing a book about his experience.

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