Woman Who Donated Husband’s Face for Transplant Meets Recipient: “My Husband Had Very Nice Jewish Nose”


james-maki-smallWhen Susan Whitman’s husband died after suffering a fatal stroke, she made the difficult decision to donate not just his organs to others who needed them, but his face too. And now, incredibly, Susan has got to know the recipient, 59-year-old James Maki, whose own face was horribly disfigured after he fell onto a live railway line.Whitman’s husband Joseph Helfgot, 60, had always been clear that if he failed to survive long-awaited heart surgery, his wish was to donate his organs.

But after his death, doctors asked his wife if along with the other organs, she would be happy for her husband’s face to be used in a transplant.

After discussing the issue with her family, Susan agreed, and Joseph’s face was donated to James Maki, a war veteran whose face had been badly burned after his accident on the railway track.

In the incident, James lost his nose, cheeks, upper lip and the roof of his mouth, as well as underlying bone, muscle and nerves.

James Maki, 59, says he was unable to live a normal life before the transplant, but now he is looking forward to eating, speaking and smiling again.
James Maki, 59, says he was unable to live a normal life before the transplant, but now he is looking forward to eating, speaking and smiling again.

For three years, James, from Boston, America, was unable to live a normal life. He struggled to eat or speak and was hardly able to leave the house.

‘My life up until the transplant was a mess,’ James told Closer magazine. I knew surgery might give me a normal life again. Any face was better than none.’

After making the decision to go for a transplant, James waited three months on the organ donor list before a near-perfect skin tone match was found in Joseph Helfgot.

James’ nose, lip, skin, muscle and nerves were replaced with Joseph’s, and just four days later, an elated James talked of the operation’s success.

‘My nose looks so close to how it was before,’ he said.

And just six weeks after the 17-hour operation to attach the transplant, Susan Whitman made the journey to meet the man who now has her late husband’s face.

For Susan, seeing Maki with her husband’s face didn’t mean looking at the image of her late husband.

‘It’s virtually impossible for anyone to know someone has received someone else’s face, nor do they look anything like that person,’ Whitman said.

‘The nose was a little bit identifiable, probably because my husband had a very nice Jewish nose. Other than that, I think he looked just like Jim and Jim feels he looks like Jim and that’s really important.’

Maki himself says that it is thanks to the couple’s generosity that he has been given another chance of life.

‘I want to say thank you to Susan and her husband Joseph for the gift they have given me. I will be forever grateful,’ he said.

Donating her husband’s face, Susan says, has helped her to get over her incredible loss and allows her to feel that somehow her husband lives on.

‘In a way, because of the transplant, Joseph’s still here, she said. ‘Donating organs is the quickest way to get over grief.’

Giving permission for the transplant was ‘hard’, says Whitman, but was the right thing to do. ‘You wish, on so many levels, that you don’t have to make this decision, but how can you deny someone else a chance at life?’

And her husband, who Whitman says embraced life and loved to be at the center of things, would be overjoyed at the outcome and his role in America’s second face transplant.

‘He would be happy to know he went out with a bang,’ she said.

{Daily Mail/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. This is a heartwarming story. thanks for sharing it.
    i think it also shows the niflaos haborei and the amazing chochmah that Hashem gave to human beings!!! WHo would have ever believed that a face transplant could be done! Amazing. Absolultely amazing. Unfortunately the person will never be able to look mamish the way he looked but apparently it help a lot and that is truly a neis; we have to be able to stop and appreciate how amazing this news story is. it is unbelievable. i printed it out to show my students.

  2. i’m just wondering is it halachically permissable to donate a face from a niftar or does it need kevura ? if it is permissable when the second person dies where do you bury the face?

  3. To Wondering;

    “Where do you bury the face?”

    I assume the face would be buried in the ground.

    I am not a rav but how would one think to cut off the face from the transplant recipient after 120 yrs and dig up the niftar and put it in his grave

  4. i am not a rabbi. (actually woman), but to my limited knowledge- Halacha does not permit us to donate organs period. therefore i would think that it is asur to donate your face organ.
    so seventy-five-before i would show that to my students i would also find out the halachic ruling and mention that to them as well so that even while seeing niflaos Haboreah, they know that Halacha and Hashkafa directs our lives ALWAYS. Good Luck!