Pictures have been released today of the incredible face transplant, undertaken by gun shot victim Richard Lee Norris. The 37 year old man was injured in 1997 when he shot himself in the face and lost his nose, lips and most of the movement in his mouth.
Norris was treated at the University of Maryland by a 100-strong team of doctors back in March, and now says: “I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look.” The transplant surgery included reconstructive operations that gave Norris a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw in what turned out to be a 36-hour surgery.
Previously, for the last 15 years, Mr Norris lived as a recluse in Hillsville, Virginia, where he would hide behind a mask and only venture out at night time. Now, thanks to this life changing surgery, he can feel his face and is able to brush his teeth and shave. He has also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.
His surgery is though to be the most extensive face transplant to date, and has included multiple life-saving, reconstructive surgeries which also replaced underlying nerve and muscle tissue from scalp to neck. He has regained motor function to 80 per cent on the right side of the face and 40 per cent on the left.
One of the lead surgeons in the life changing surgery on Mr Norris, Dr Eduardo D. Rodriguez, who is the professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillo-facial surgery at Shock Trauma said: “Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity,” Rodriguez said in March. “Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it’s really amazing.
Mr Norris opened his eyes on the third day after the surgery with his family around him. He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me,” said Dr Rodriguez. “We concealed all the lines so it would give him the most immediate best appearance with minimal touch-ups down the road.”
Mr Norris was given a new tongue so that he could speak, eat and chew properly, normally aligned teeth, and his nerves were connected to allow for smiling.
The surgery involved ten years of research which was funded by the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research, and it is thought that this surgery will serve as a model for helping war veterans injured by improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.
Rodriguez paid tribute to the work of the teams around the world that had conducted the 22 face transplants to date, without which, he said, this operation would not have been possible.
The first full face transplant was performed by surgeons in France in 2005 on a woman who had been attacked by her dog. In the US, the Cleveland Clinic performed the first face transplant back in 2008. Officials provided little detail on Norris or the circumstances of the accident, but Dr Rodriguez stated: “This accidental injury just destroyed everything.
The rest of his friends and colleagues went on to start getting married, having children, owning homes. He wants to make up for all of that.”
This transplant follows the highly successful facial transplant of Charla Nash, from Stamford, Connecticut, who was attacked by a friends chimpanzee called Travis. In that attack, Charla lost her eyesight, hands and face. She received a face and hand transplant in 2010 in over 72 hours of operations in total but she later had to have her hands removed as an infection set in.