I’m in love with a face transplant survivor — now I’m a punching bag for trolls

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By Dan Sears

Jessica Perez found “love at first sight” with her beau, face transplant recipient Joe DiMeo.

Just eight months after the groundbreaking procedure, Perez met DiMeo, 24, who now touts the face of a 48-year-old donor after a fiery car accident that left him with horrific third-degree burns on 80% of his body.

Following the crash, DiMeo underwent 20 reconstructive plastic surgeries and skin grafts before he received his new mug from New York University’s Langone medical center in 2020, making him the first patient to receive a simultaneous face and bilateral hand transplant.

Now, three years later, the New Jersey native is head over heels.

Perez and DiMeo at farm with llamas
The pair met eight months after DiMeo’s 23-hour surgery.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

Perez and DiMeo wearing paper crowns in selfie
Despite negative comments online, their love is strong as ever.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

DiMeo and Perez on the beach
“From our first phone call, Joe was special to me,” Perez said.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

After stumbling upon Dimeo’s story, Perez reached out to DiMeo online and the two have been together ever since, despite the incessant queries about their love life.

“From our first phone call, Joe was special to me,” she told NeedToKnow.co.uk.

“We talked every day on the phone, it was a long distance for us at the beginning – with me based in Ohio and him based in New Jersey.”

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But it wasn’t until the pair met in person that Perez was smitten.

“I fell in love with him the first time I hugged him,” she gushed, describing her boyfriend as sweet, kind and caring. “Joe checks all the boxes for me.”

headshot of Perez
Perez, who works as a nurse, is not fazed by DiMeo’s medical needs.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

DiMeo and Perez in a selfie
“I get a lot of hate online, at this point I feel like a punching bag,” Perez said.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

Not even internet trolls can break their love spell — no matter how cruel the comments are.

“I get a lot of hate online, at this point I feel like a punching bag,” Perez said of the “disrespect.” “People say I’m a gold digger, attention seeking, and call me fake.”

She ultimately decided to share their love and journey on TikTok to bring awareness to DiMeo’s story, racking up nearly 100,000 followers.

But she feels the judgment beyond a phone screen, saying “people stare” when the pair are out in public.

“Sometimes it’s funny, one time a man gave Joe a thumbs-up,” she recalled. “But teenagers can be rude and remark, ‘What’s wrong with his face?’ “

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Perez and DiMeo at Yankees game
While there are limitations to what they can do together, the couple is determined to make it work.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

Perez with her boxer in selfie
Perez said she hopes to grow their family together — eventually, they want to adopt a puppy.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

While DiMeo doesn’t appear to mind, Perez said the remarks and jeers still bother her.

“I talk to Joe about the hate, he helps me navigate my feelings,” she explained. “He makes me feel better.”

Perez said she tends to ignore “the cowards that hide behind a fake profile,” but will respond to hate comments if “someone is public about their life” online.

But the couple doesn’t let the haters — or DiMeo’s occasional hospital trips — get them down.

As a nurse, Perez said his medical needs and complications are not “an issue” for her because of her profession.

Joe DiMeo, pictured in a mirror selfie before the crash
In 2018, DiMeo was trapped in a vehicle inferno after a horrific car accident.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

Joe DiMeo playing with dog in the yard
After undergoing multiple surgeries, he received a face and hand transplant.
Jam Press/Jessica Perez

“Because Joe has a complicated transplant, we have to be prepared for hospitalizations,” she said.

“We’ve had to cancel trips and plans. We can’t go out in the summer heat even for a walk because Joe can go into rejection from the sun.”

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While there are “limitations” on what they can do, they’re making it work — and even hope to buy a home and grow their family together.

DiMeo previously told The Post that “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Never give up and never let your appearance slow you down,” he said. “Always look at the good things.”

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