These days, Aaron James enjoys gazing in the mirror.

The 46-year-old from Arkansas remarks, “I can’t go past one without stopping,” as he shows off his new face in a Zoom interview, obviously still in shock at what he sees. “I’m in complete awe.”

James avoided looking at his reflection for two years following his June 2021 electrocution while working as a lineman. Before the accident, James was a dashing, muscular, bearded man, and he didn’t want anyone to remind him of the altered reality that was etched on his face: His cheek was covered in scar tissue, leaving an empty socket where his left eye used to be, a little hole where his mouth used to be, and a smooth, closed hump where his nose used to be.

“It was quite distressing,” he informs a source. “I wanted to remember my old face.” That was not the face I wanted to have. I have no interest in seeing it.

However, five months ago, NYU Langone Health physicians performed the first eye and face transplant in history, giving James his confidence back. James remarks, “This is the first time since the accident that I don’t want to wear a mask.” “I want to be seen by everyone.”

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a transplant specialist who headed the NYU Langone team that performed the surgery and helped pioneer the treatment, tells PEOPLE that the findings are “remarkably exciting.” Despite the fact that over 45 face transplants have been carried out globally—five of which Dr. Rodriguez himself did, including James’s—this is the first instance in which doctors have successfully replaced a whole eye.

READ MORE: A Man Who Had Been Living With A Transplanted Pig’s Heart For 40 Days Died Suddenly

Dr. Rodriguez, who revealed the development alongside James and the NYU Langone team at a news conference today, said, “It is far more promising than any of us ever expected.” James does not currently have vision in his eye, and medical professionals are not sure if he ever will; but, “the brain is receiving messages from the eyeball.” It has never been done before that the eyeball is alive.

Prior to becoming the focus of a medical miracle, James was employed by a construction company as an electrical lineman, which required him to work away from his wife and teenage daughter in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, for up to three weeks at a time.

The mishap
In June 2021, while working in an elevated bucket near Tulsa, Oklahoma, James, an Army National Guard veteran who had served in Kuwait, Egypt, and Iraq, struck his face on a live wire while holding a neutral wire. Burning from the inside out, the shock of almost 7,000 volts of electricity shot through his body, blowing off his thumb.

James claims that the collision “is like a dream, all jumbled up.” “After six weeks, all I can remember is going to work and waking up.”

“The only thing that we can promise you is that he won’t die before you get here,” his wife Meagan was informed when she first received the phone informing her that her husband was in the hospital, four and a half hours away.

+His left eye, nose, and the lower portion of his face were all damaged, and the trauma also caused burns to his gums, kidney failure, and strokes. James’ left arm had to be amputated at the mid-humerus bone, seven teeth had to be out, and he had to regain his ability to walk. Meagan notes that “there were so many unknowns on what his outlook would be.” They were genuinely ignorant. They said things like, “He probably won’t talk, and he won’t eat the same.” It’s possible that he couldn’t get off the ventilator. However, I reasoned, “He’s fighting, and I’ll be here fighting as long as he is.”

READ MORE: After A Terrifying Accident, A Man Who Had The First Successful Face And Double Hand Transplant Is Back On The Road

challenging moments
Aaron acknowledges a few difficult days. “I experienced a lot of depression and asked myself, ‘Why me?'” I started crying and lost it. That seems like a reasonable response to something like this, he says. But it was short-lived. I was motivated and kept going by everyone around me. I wasn’t allowed to think about it for too long.

Although his constraints were difficult, his family at home, which established a GoFund Me page to assist with medical expenditures, would lightheartedly joke with one another. His daughter, Allie, who is now 18 years old, even recorded videos of herself and her dad on social media. Aaron, who used to weigh 245 pounds, says, “All I could eat was pureed soup from a straw because I couldn’t open my mouth.” Aaron shed 75 pounds.

Going out in public meant drawing attention, which could be uncomfortable at times. Aaron, who would conceal his wounds with an eye patch and a mask, adds, “I just looked straight ahead and didn’t really pay attention to people.” But since I made it through this, I reasoned that there must be a reason, and I set out to discover it. That sustained me.

And his hopes increased even more when he found out that a fresh face might be possible. James was put in touch with the hospital to investigate whether he could be eligible for a transplant by his worker compensation firm, which was aware of the work that Dr. Rodriguez at NYU Langone had completed.

Dr. Rodriguez, who met Aaron just two months after his accident, says, “He was an ideal candidate.” He possessed an unreconstructible malformation. He was breathing through his trach [tube] and was unable to eat. It would change our lives if we could pull this off. Equally essential, he argues, was Aaron’s robust support network, which the surgeon saw for himself when visiting the family in Arkansas. “Everyone was in.” They are in back of him.

He warned the family that the procedure carried significant dangers, especially when it came to eye transplantation. A serious pain condition known as sympathetic ophthalmia can affect the eyes. Additionally, it might have a distinct immunological reaction, according to Dr. Rodriguez. “A severe acute rejection in the face could be triggered by an eye rejection. In essence, this was uncharted ground. It has never been done, I informed him. I’m not even sure whether we could pull it off. The eye transplant may make matters more difficult. It might murder you.

Aaron, though, was willing to take a chance. I said, “Yes, let’s get started.” His one wish was to be able to grow his beard again on his new face.

Aaron was paired with a donor just three months after he was identified as a possible recipient of a transplant. The man in his 30s, according to organ procurement group LiveOnNY, gave Aaron both his face and eye in addition to saving three other people’s lives by donating his kidneys, liver, and pancreas.

Following his May 27 operation, which took 21 hours, Aaron spent 37 days in the hospital. He’s doing excellent now, Dr. Rodriguez reports. His expression has begun to change. He can now begin to squint. Although the eyelid is still closed, you can observe movement in his muscles.

Aaron has even grown back his beard. He exclaims, “I was so excited for this day to arrive.” “I can taste everything, smell everything, open my mouth, and eat.” Nothing could have exceeded my expectations. I hardly ever notice that I’ve undergone surgery when I look in the mirror. I’m still stunned.

The similarity between Aaron’s looks and the donor’s has astounded Aaron and his spouse. “That was an incredible match. Meagan remarks, “I mean, the skin tone match is just perfect.”

According to Aaron, their appreciation for the family that bestowed onto him such a priceless gift is immeasurable. He claims, “I think about them every single day.” “I have so much to thank you for. There are no adequate words to describe it. This world is full of horrible things, and it is easy to lose hope. However, when something like this occurs, hope is restored. It inspires you to improve yourself for them.


Download The Radiant App To Start Watching!

Web: Watch Now

LGTV™: Download

ROKU™: Download

XBox™: Download

Samsung TV™: Download

Amazon Fire TV™: Download

Android TV™: Download