L.A. man who underwent historic face transplant going strong after four years

Francis Akhalbey July 14, 2023
Robert Chelsea underwent a historic face transplant in 2019 -- Photos via Robert Chelsea on Facebook

Robert Chelsea in August 2013 suffered third-degree burns that covered almost half his body after a drunk driver slammed into his car and sent it into flames. Prior to the collision, the 68-year-old Los Angeles man had pulled over after his car developed a fault while he was returning home from church, KTLA reported.

Chelsea, unfortunately, lost a significant portion of his face as a result of the accident. In 2019, he became the oldest person and the first African American to receive a face transplant after a 16-hour procedure at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

A GoFundMe that was set up for Chelsea stated that he got 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 after the historic July 2019 transplant has been described as steady four years down the line. The swelling on his face has since gone down while he has also developed facial muscles as well as 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.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 14, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates