Almost six months after a rare face and hands transplant, Joe DiMeo is relearning how to smile, blink, pinch and squeeze.
The 22-year-old New Jersey resident had the operation last August, two years after being badly burned in a car crash.
“I knew it would be baby steps all the way,” DiMeo told The Associated Press. “You’ve got to have a lot of motivation, a lot of patience. And you’ve got to stay strong through everything.”
Experts say it appears the surgery at NYU Langone Health was a success, but warn it’ll take some time to say for sure.
Worldwide, surgeons have completed at least 18 face transplants and 35 hand transplants.
“The fact they could pull it off is phenomenal,” said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the second [ever face and double hand transplant attempt]. “I know firsthand it’s incredibly complicated. It’s a tremendous success.”
DiMeo, who lives with his parents, can now dress and feed himself. He shoots pool and plays with his dog Buster. Once an avid gym-goer, DiMeo is also working out again — benching 50 pounds and practicing his golf swing.
“You got a new chance at life. You really can’t give up,” he said.