A California man has become the first African American to receive a face transplant after waiting six years to find skin that matched his.
Robert Chelsea told Time that he turned down the first face that doctors found for him in 2018 because the donor was far more fair than Chelsea and he didn’t want to become a ‘totally different looking person.’
At long last, Chelsea got a new face in July in 2019.
But his story highlights not only the challenges of face transplants, but life-threatening and -altering disparities between black and white patients in the US.
Despite dying of most diseases at higher rates than white people, black patients are far less likely to receive organ transplants.
And for those like Chelsea who need a donor’s skin to match their own, odds a transplant are even lower.
‘May God bless the donor and his family who chose to donate this precious gift and give me a second chance,’ Chelsea said.
‘Words cannot describe how I feel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and feel very blessed to receive such an amazing gift.’
Face transplant recipients are a rare group.
Chelsea is rarer still as the first and only black patient to receive such a transplant.
But he is perhaps most unique in his singular attitude.
It took 18 hours of surgeries and skin grafts to save Chelsea’s life and the tissue of his lips, left ear, part and part of his nose died, leaving his face disfigured for the last six years
Chelsea told Time that he hadn’t been terribly fond of his appearance before the accident (pictured with his daughter, Ebony)