L.A. man may be 1st African-American to receive facial transplant

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jun 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-11 17:10:15-04

Los Angeles, CA (KTLA) — A Los Angeles man who suffered extensive burns in a crash told KTLA on Friday that he was raising money to fund a procedure that would make him the first African-American to receive a facial transplant.

According to a GoFundMe page for Robert Chelsea, he was driving home from church in 2013 when his car overheated and forced him to pull over to the side of the freeway.

While waiting for roadside assistance, a drunken driver crashed into Chelsea’s vehicle, the page said. The car exploded on impact, causing Chelsea to suffer third-degree burns on over 50 percent of his body, according to the website.

The GoFundMe page did not name the driver, but said that person had three prior DUI convictions.

Chelsea, now 67, said he stayed a year and a half in the hospital, spending the first six months in a coma.

“While the burns covered much of my body, it was my face that suffered the worst visible damage,” he said.

Chelsea said after three years of tests and evaluations, he finally qualified as a candidate for facial reconstruction.

“There is a relatively new medical procedure called ‘Facial Transplantation’ that can make my face whole again,” he said. “Since 2005, only 41 people in the world have undergone this procedure. And with your help, I will become first African American in the country to receive this breakthrough surgery.”

Chelsea said the money raised on the GoFundMe page would pay for what his insurance would not cover, in addition to travel expenses to Boston, where he would have the surgery and receive follow-up treatments.

He added that as of May, he’s been first on a donor list to receive the procedure. Without enough funds, however, he said he would lose the opportunity.

As of Friday evening, the GoFundMe page has raised $14,200 out of a goal of $65,000.

“One thing I want to do most of all, is kiss my daughter’s cheek,” Chelsea told KTLA. “That I have not been able to do.”