The oldest person to receive a face transplant has given an update on his life four years after surviving a grueling 16-hour operation.
Robert Chelsea, 68, said he has a hard time looking in the mirror because he feels like he’s “looking at someone else” but expressed his gratitude for coming out on the other side.
‘Everything is fine,’ he said KTLAinsisting that despite the challenges of her day-to-day life, including taking a fleet of drugs to aid her recovery, her ‘face feels good’.
Chelsea suffered horrific burns over more than 50 percent of her body after a drunk driver hit her car in 2013, causing it to explode in a ball of fire.
Robert Chelsea, 68, said he has a hard time looking in the mirror because he feels like he’s “looking at someone else”.
After suffering the horrific accident a decade ago, Chelsea faced an agonizing six-year wait for a new face because the number of African-American donors is extremely low.
“Because I’m black, I needed a black face, so I’m very lucky,” he said. If someone needs a kidney, a liver or a lung, it wouldn’t matter.
According to a fundraiser set up to help with her overwhelming medical bills, Chelsea endured “more than 30 surgeries” during her wait for new roles.
But now, despite the fact that the transplant was performed four years ago, the 68-year-old admitted that when he looks in the mirror, “I know it’s me, but I’m looking at someone else.”
Since then, she has tried to find a silver lining in her disfigurement and has made it her mission to advocate for others going through ordeals similar to her own.
As part of these efforts, Chelsea said she regularly visits schools to “encourage kids not to pick on their peers because they don’t walk the same, they don’t look the same, they don’t talk the same.”
“So appreciate your friends for who they are and not how they appear to be,” he added.
After insurance, Chelsea said she has to shell out about $5,500 each month in medical bills. TO fundraising has been established to help with assembly bills.
More than 50 percent of Chelsea’s body was burned after a drunk driver hit her car. She is pictured in 2019 undergoing one of 30 surgeries resulting from the accident.
Chelsea have endured a slow recovery period as they gradually strengthen their new face. He is photographed during the recovery process.
Chelsea said she now has a hard time recognizing herself when she looks in the mirror. He is photographed before the accident with his daughter.
Chelsea’s life was turned upside down more than a decade ago, when her car overheated while she was driving home from church.
After pulling over to the side of the road, a drunk driver slammed into his car, causing both vehicles to explode in a ball of fire.
The father suffered life-changing third-degree burns to more than 50 percent of his body and lost his lips, left ear, and parts of his tongue and nose in the fire.
The fiery wreck also wreaked havoc on his nervous system, devastated his gastrointestinal processes, and sent his blood pressure through the roof.
But his recovery process was far from smooth, as the struggle to find a face that matched his skin color led to a six-year wait.
In 2018, doctors offered her a face, but she turned it down because the donor’s skin was lighter than her own and she didn’t want to become a ‘totally different person’.
After they finally gave it new features in July 2019, he said TIME that he was excited to receive a new lease on life.
“May God bless the donor and their 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 so blessed to receive such an incredible gift.”
After being given a new lease on life thanks to a face transplant in 2019, Chelsea said “words cannot describe how I feel.” She is pictured in October 2019, three months after surgery.
Dr. Bondah Pomahac (left), the plastic surgeon who led the transplant team, said Chelsea made a good recovery despite being the oldest person to receive a new face.
It took a team of 45 doctors and nurses to perform Chelsea’s face transplant in July 2019
Over the years, as people have followed her recovery process, a common theme has been people commenting on how calm and collected Chelsea was about her disfigurement.
When asked by TIME about people staring at him, he joked that he compared himself to a Halloween mask and said he didn’t care because he understood.
And after his surgery, the then-64-year-old commented that he never really liked his original face much anyway.
A team of more than 45 doctors worked to give the retiree his historic facelift, and his lead surgeon said he was surprised at how well Chelsea was doing given her age.
“Despite being the oldest face transplant patient at 68, Robert is making remarkably fast progress and recovery,” said Dr. Bondah Pomahac, a plastic surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in charge of the Chelsea transplant.
“We hope to see a significant improvement in Robert’s quality of life,” he added at the time.