Man burned in crash says he’s oldest and 1st African American to receive facial transplant

Posted at 7:15 AM, Jan 25, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles man who suffered extensive burns in a crash successfully underwent a facial transplant procedure that made him the oldest person and the first African American to get a face transplant.

Robert Chelsea, 68, said he is recovering from a successful and extensive 16-hour surgery he underwent in a Boston hospital in July, according to KTLA.

"After enduring more than 30 surgeries, three years of tests, physical and psychological evaluations, and a longer than usual wait for a donor, Chelsea underwent a 16-hour full face transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital this past July," according to a GoFundMe page created to help him raise funds for the procedures.

He is still adjusting to the sight of another man's face when he looks into the mirror, he said, and feels like he's wearing a mask.

"On the inside, I'm me. But outside, I'm trying to get used to this new person," Chelsea said. "I recognize this face. I accept this face. I appreciate this face."

Chelsea is still healing and struggling with functionality. Doctors have told him that it may take up to six months for him to recover and regain feeling in his face.

"I do see another man and I've grown to deal with it and I'm okay with it now," his daughter Ebony said. "But when I first saw it, I was a little distraught."

Chelsea was driving home from church in 2013 when his car overheated, so he pulled over to the side of the freeway, according to the GoFundMe page. While waiting for roadside assistance, a drunk driver crashed into his car, causing it to explode on impact. Chelsea suffered third-degree burns on over 50% of his body as a result, according to the website.

He said he plans to go back to Boston in March for more doctor visits.

He is paying for the expensive medical co-pays, caregivers, travel to and from Boston and day to day living expenses through financial support raised through GoFundMe, according to the website.

"Although his new face suits him quite well, there is the constant danger of transplant rejection. He must take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life," the page says.

As of June 23, over $85,000 was raised.

Chelsea said he hopes his story will inspire people to become organ donors.

"This is a new day, a new opportunity... This journey is worth it," he said.