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Los Angeles Man Who Underwent Historic Face Transplant Going Strong After Four Years

In August 2013, Robert Chelsea suffered third-degree burns that covered nearly half of his body after a drunk motorist rammed into his car and set it on fire. Prior to the crash, the 68-year-old Los Angeles man had pulled over after his car developed a defect on his way home from church, according to KTLA.

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Chelsea, sadly, lost a large section of his face as a result of the tragedy. After a 16-hour procedure at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, he became the oldest person and the first African American to have a face transplant in 2019.

According to a GoFundMe page put up for Chelsea, he received the face transplant after “enduring more than 30 surgeries, three years of tests, physical and psychological evaluations, and a longer than usual wait for a donor.”

Chelsea’s recovery four years after the historic July 2019 transplant has been termed as steady. His facial edema has subsequently subsided, and he has also developed facial muscles and grown a beard.

“The face feels fine,” he said. “When I look in the mirror, I see another person, no doubt about that.” Though Chelsea said he knows it’s him, he reiterated that he’s “looking at another person.”

Chelsea said he counts himself as a lucky recipient as organ donations within the Black populace are very low, per KTLA. “Because I’m Black, I happened to need a Black face so I’m very fortunate,” Chelsea said. “If someone needs a kidney or a liver or a lung, it wouldn’t matter.”

Chelsea has since become an advocate for organ donations as well as the disabled. He also pays monthly visits to schools to “encourage the children not to tease their fellow peers because they don’t walk the same, look the same, talk the same. So, appreciate your friends for who they are and not for how they appear to be.”

Despite saying he has since become oblivious to what “normal” looks like, Chelsea said he’s still grateful to be alive. He also expressed his gratitude for the support he has received from his family and friends. Chelsea’s monthly medical bills after insurance is around $5,500. The GoFundMe was set up to help raise funds for his medical expenses.


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