Although there are records of people receiving full-face transplants, O'Neal has opted for a less radical operation to "debulk" his tumors, which removes most of the tissue but leaves some behind.
But it is far from a simple procedure. The first of two operations will take about 10 hours, with Neligan preserving as best he can the form and function of the nose, mouth, ears and O'Neal's remaining eye. The tumors have alread cost him the use of his left eye. Even after two operations, O'Neal will need further surgery in about three years to keep tumor growth at bay.
Dr. Neligan said the result may not look 100 percent normal, but that there would be a significant improvement in O'Neal's appearance.
Though O'Neal is looking forward to the procedure, he is not concerned that the alterations will be more than skin deep.
"It's hard to say. ... I'm not looking for anything different," O'Neal said. "Someday, I hope to be store manager. ... I think I inspire a lot of people just being out working."
O'Neal will be out of commission for about six weeks following his surgery. But, as a practical football fan, O'Neal has scheduled the procedure for November so he can watch Seahawk games on television while he convalesces.
To learn more about O'Neal's story or to donate toward his surgery, visit http://friendsofjamesoneal.blogspot.com/.