After a severe car crash in Los Angeles disfigured Robert Chelsea’s body, surgeons were able to help him get back to a somewhat normal life. His face, however, was almost destroyed due to the intense flames that engulfed him before he could escape. Doctors suggested a full face transplant, and Chelsea agreed to be put on the waiting list.
Full face transplants are rare. Due in no small part to the expense, such procedures are still being developed and currently take many hours and many medical assistants. Like many organ transplants, the process can be slowed by the lack of donors. This is especially true of people of color.
Initially, Chelsea rejected the first face graft offered because it was significantly lighter than the skin tone of the rest of his body. Although few Black people donate, the right skin tone finally came along for Robert Chelsea in July of 2019, after 4 years of waiting.
Chelsea is among the first 60 people worldwide to receive a full facial transplant, and the first Black person. He also sets the record for the oldest facial transplant recipient at age of 68.
Chelsea reports that he feels very blessed to receive the amazing gift of a new face after his destructive accident, and that he is enjoying feeling like himself again.