US man receives world’s first whole-eye transplant

The 21-hour operation saw the military veteran receive a partial-face and whole-eye transplant following an electrical accident

A woman in a surgical mask and scrubs holds an imaging device over a patient’s eye who is lying on a gurney. She observes a projection of the eye on a large screen
NYU Langone Health

A 46-year-old US military veteran has become the first person in the world to receive a whole-eye transplant.

Aaron James of Hot Springs, Arkansas, was injured when his face accidentally touched a 7200-volt live wire in the course of his job as a utility line worker in 2021.

James received a partial-face and whole-eye transplant during a 21-hour operation at NYU Langone Health in May.

Since the operation, tests have indicated flow of blood to the retina – although the transplanted eye does not currently have vision.

Dr Vaidehi Dedania, of NYU Langone Health, highlighted the unprecedented nature of the operation.

“What we’re witnessing now is not something we ever expected or thought we’d see,” she said.

“The first step is having an intact eyeball, a lot of things could come after that; this is a first in the world, so we are really learning as we go,” Dedania shared.

Her colleague, Dr Bruce Gelb, said that the initial hope was that the transplanted eye would last for 90 days.

“We have a viable cornea paired with a retina showing great blood flow five months after the procedure,” he said.