An American man who lived with a severely disfigured face for more than a decade and received the most extensive face transplant in history said this week that he has been given a new life.
“For the past 15 years, I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when less people were around,” Richard Lee Norris said.
Norris, now 37, accidentally shot himself in the face in 1997, losing his nose, lips and part of his jaw. In March of this year, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed a complicated 36-hour transplant that gave him the face and neck from an anonymous donor, whose organs saved five other patients’ lives on the same day.
“I can now go out and not get the stares and have to hear comments that people would make,” Norris, a resident of the state of Virginia, said. “I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look.”
This week, doctors released the first post-recovery photo of Norris, which shows only one visible scar along his neck where his new face was attached.
“Our goal for Richard from the beginning was to restore facial harmony and functional balance in the most aesthetic manner possible through the complex transplantation of the facial bones, nerves, muscles, tongue, teeth and the associated soft tissues,” the lead surgeon, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, said.
Norris continues to go to physical and speech therapy, which have helped give him the ability to eat, taste, smell, smile and talk.
“Each day it improves a little more,” Norris said.
Norris’ face transplant operation was one of 22 done worldwide since 2005, and one of six done in the US. Doctors said Norris’ recovery has exceeded their expectations and gives hope for other people who might be a face-transplant candidate.
“Now having seen how this surgery has changed Richard’s life, we are even more dedicated to researching ways to improve facial transplantation and helping more patients, including military veterans, return to normal lives after undergoing this same surgery,” said University of Maryland surgeon Dr. Stephen Bartlett.