Yesterday, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center described what they called the most comprehensive face transplant in history, allowing 37-year-old Richard Norris to come out from behind the mask he’s worn ever since a gun accident almost killed him 15 years ago.
In 1997, Norris was shot in the face and lost his nose, lips, and most movement in his mouth. Since that time, he’s had multiple reconstructive surgeries, but none could repair the damage that was done.
He wore a prosthetic nose and a mask, even when entering the hospital for the face transplant procedure.
Last week, during a marathon 36-hour operation, University of Maryland surgeons gave him a new face from an anonymous donor whose organs saved five other patients’ lives that very same day.
Six days after the procedure, he was already able to move his tongue and open and close his eyes. He’s now recovering much more quickly than doctors had initially anticipated.
“He’s actually looking in the mirror shaving and brushing his teeth, which we never even expected,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and head of the transplant team.
When Norris opened his eyes on the third day following the face transplant surgery with his family surrounding him, he asked for a mirror.
“He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me,” Rodriguez said.
Norris’ operation follows other successful face transplants in Texas and Massachusetts in 2011, and this one would seem to be the most aesthetically successful.
Richard Norris is the first full face transplant recipient in the U.S. to retain his eyesight.
“We concealed all the lines so it would give him the most immediate best appearance with minimal touch-ups down the road,” Rodriguez said.
To ensure Norris would have maximum function of his facial expressions and movements, doctors gave him a new tongue for proper speech, chewing, eating, and normally aligned teeth, and even connected his nerves so he could smile.
Before the surgery, Norris, who isn’t married, hadn’t been able to find a job due to his appearance.
The transplant was “an amazing feat,” said the dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. E. Albert Reece at a press conference.
“It’s also an unprecedented and historic procedure that we believe will change, if you will, the face of medicine now and in the future,” Reece said.
Approximately 100 scientists, doctors, and university medical personnel collaborated on the operation.
The surgery involved a decade of research funded by the Department of Defense‘s Office of Naval Research and will serve as a model for assisting veterans who have been injured by improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
More in the video below.
- Most Extensive Face Transplant Yet (neatorama.com)
- U.S. man Richard Norris hugs doctors after seeing face transplant in mirror (windsorstar.com)
- Man hugs doctors after seeing face transplant in mirror (vancouversun.com)