A man in the US has received the world’s first whole-eye transplant, which he described as the “first step” towards more surgeries like it.
Aaron James suffered a high-voltage electrical accident at work in 2021, completely destroying the left side of his face.
Now he is the first person to receive a full eye transplant, with surgeons hoping the new eye’s optic nerve will connect to the brain and restore Mr James’ sight.
US journalist Terry Sheridan told The Pat Kenny Show the surgeons initially thought the eye transplant, which happened six months ago, to be cosmetic.
“They were going to do a face transplant and the doctor said, ‘If we use a real eye, it will make the face transplant better’,” he explained.
“When they were testing him out recently, they saw the eye was still alive and he was feeling things... They were doing brain scans and saw there was some activity.”
The 21-hour transplant surgery presented no serious danger to Mr James, but it was an extremely “delicate” procedure.
“It's only the 21st face transplant in the United States, much less a whole eye transplant, so it had a high chance of failure,” Mr Sheridan said.
“The delicate thing is actually getting the eye to connect to the brain and work.
“With any transplant there is the chance of recognition but with this one wasn’t putting a glass eye; it was putting in a living eye and connecting the optic nerve to the brain – that was the new thing.”
Whether Mr James’ sight will be restored in his left eye is an “open question”, but his surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez is proud of his advances in the field.
"The mere fact that we transplanted an eye is a huge step forward, something that for centuries has been thought about, but it's never been performed,” he said.
“We're not claiming we’re going to restore his sight, but there’s no doubt in my mind we are one step closer to this kind of successful surgery.”
Mr Sheridan said this pride was a feeling shared by Mr James himself.
“Aaron James himself said he is patient zero,” he said.
“You have to start somewhere and even if he doesn’t regain his sight, his operation will be a first step to someone else getting it.”
Main image: Aaron James being examined by Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, 23/10/2023. Image: AP Photo/Joseph. B. Frederick