World’s First Whole-Eye Transplant: A Pivotal Moment for Science and Hope

- Beth Daisy

Insights from Future In Sight graphic with headshot of Beth Daisy

Imagine losing not only your eyesight but your whole eye in a tragic accident and then receiving a new one from a donor. That’s what happened to Aaron James, a US veteran who underwent the world’s first whole-eye transplant in New York. The surgery, which also included a partial face transplant, was a medical marvel that many thought was impossible.

But what does this mean for Aaron and millions of others who are blind or hold out hope that one day their vision loss will be reversed? The answer is not clear yet. Doctors say it is not likely that the transplanted eye will restore any functional vision in that eye, but they are hopeful that it will at least improve his quality of life and appearance. They also say that the surgery offers a unique opportunity to study how the human eye heals and connects with the brain.

Aaron, who lost his left eye and part of his face in a high-voltage electrical accident in 2021, is grateful for the chance to participate in this groundbreaking research. He says that although he is not expecting to see with his new eye, he is happy to help advance the field of transplant medicine and inspire others who face similar challenges.

The surgery, which took 21 hours and involved more than 140 health care professionals, was performed by a team of surgeons at NYU Langone Health, led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez. The donated eye and face came from a single male donor in his 30s. The surgeons used stem cells from the donor’s bone marrow to help repair the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain.

The world’s first whole-eye transplant is a remarkable achievement that opens up new possibilities for restoring sight and improving lives. It also raises many questions and challenges that will require further research and innovation. As Dr. Rodriguez said, “We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision.”¹

While the blood vessels of the eye are allowing the new eye to remain alive and healthy, medical science still has a long way to go in terms of repairing damage to the optic nerve. We at Future In Sight believe that someday that day will come and that many eye diseases and injuries will eventually have an effective treatment to restore vision. Until that day comes, we are happy to help you not only live, but thrive with vision loss.

We provide training, tools and resources to individuals of all ages who are blind and visually impaired and even offer a full calendar of activities. If you or someone you love is experiencing vision loss and could benefit from our services, please contact Future In Sight at [email protected] or 603-224-4039 today!

About the Author: Beth Daisy is the Supervisor of Occupational Therapy at Future In Sight.


¹: [US veteran gets world’s first eye transplant – BBC](^1^)

Source: Conversation with Bing, 11/29/2023

(1) US veteran gets world’s first eye transplant – BBC.

(2) US veteran gets world’s first eye transplant – BBC.

(3) World’s first whole eye and partial face transplant gives … – CNN.

(4) Surgeons perform transplant of a whole human eye in world first.

(5) In a first, a man receives a whole eye transplant after surviving high ….