James Boysen, 55, has a "new lease on life" according to Jesse Selber, a reconstructive surgeon, and one of the more than 50 doctors and health workers who carried out the first-of-its-kind skull, scalp, kidney and pancreas transplants in one 15-hour procedure at Houston Methodist Hospital.
The skull and scalp transplant — in which Boysen received a 10-by-10-inch skull graft and 15-inch scalp graft — is believed to be a medical first. It was a complicated procedure, and the only one doctors could find to solve Boysen's particular array of health problems.
"He had series of cancers of the scalp and skull that were treated with various surgeries and radiation that left him with a large wound that was all the way down to his brain," Selber told Reuters.
In 1992 Boysen underwent a pancreas-kidney transplant due to complications from struggling with diabetes since he was a child. The transplant meant he had to take powerful immunosuppressants to prevent the organs from being rejected.
Immunosuppressant drugs, however, raise the risk of cancer, and in 2006 Boysen was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma — a cancer of the muscles under the scalp. The subsequent treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy left a wound in his scalp which the immunosuppressants prevented from healing.
Then, suddenly, his pancreas and kidney began to fail, and the wound in his head made the transplant procedure impossible.
It was a "perfect storm that made the wound not heal," Boysen told the Associated Press.
By 2011 his doctors conceived of a solution: replacing all four body parts at once.
"When I first met Jim, I made the connection between him needing a new kidney and pancreas and the ongoing anti-rejection medication to support them, and receiving a full scalp and skull transplant at the same time that would be protected by those same medications," said Selber.
"This was a truly unique clinical situation that created the opportunity to perform this complex transplant."
The problem was finding a donor, and Boysen and his doctors waited for years, until May 21, when they were informed by the organ and tissue donation non-profit, Life Gift, that an all-in-one donor had been found.
"This has been a long journey, and I am so grateful to all the doctors who performed my transplants," Boysen said at a news conference Thursday, joking that he now has more hair than he did when he was 21. He said he's already noticed sensation in the new scalp and that it has been sweating in warm weather.
"I’m still kind of in awe of it."