Fifteen years ago Richard Norris of Hillsville, VA almost died when he was shot in the face. The 1997 accident left him disfigured; he lost his lips, nose and most of the movement in his mouth. Despite numerous reconstructive surgeries nothing could repair his face and he did not feel comfortable in society and he has worn a prosthetic nose and a mask even when entering the hospital for the transplant that would change his life.
An anonymous organ donor and the University of Maryland doctors in a 36-hour marathon surgery, gave him a new face last week. Within six days of the surgery he could move his tongue and open and close his eyes, a much faster recovery than doctors expected.
“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 and head of the transplant team, who spoke at a press conference.
On the third of his recovery Norris opened his eyes and wanted to see a mirror.
“He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me,” Rodriguez said.
The operation is one of many successful face transplants and is most aesthetically successful one to date. Richard Norris is the first full face recipient to retain their 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 later in an interview.
Doctors gave Norris a new tongue to assist with speech and eating, normally aligned teeth, and connected nerves to allow him to smile.
The transplant is an amazing feat of modern science. “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,” said Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the School of Medicine.
The surgery involved about 100 doctors, scientists and medical staff as well as 10years of research funded by the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research. This will be used as a model for veterans suffering similar injuries caused by explosives in Afghanistan.