The 36-hour operation transforms gun victim
BALTIMORE – After 15 years of wearing a mask and living as a recluse, a 37-year-old Virginia man disfigured in a gun accident got a new face, nose, teeth and jaw in what University of Maryland physicians say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.
Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville is recovering well after last week’s surgery, beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving, University of Maryland Medical Center officials announced Tuesday. He’s also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.
Norris, who was selected from among five possible candidates for the surgery, has been living as a recluse, doing his shopping at night. It’s hoped the transplant will give him his life back, said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead surgeon.
“It’s a surreal experience to look at him. It’s hard not to stare. Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity,” Rodriguez said. “Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it’s really amazing.”
Rodriguez showed a 1993 prom photo of Norris beside a pre-transplant photo of Norris’ shortened face with a sunken mouth and flattened nose. He then revealed a photo of Norris taken on Monday, where his face appears ordinary, other than stiches along his hairline and neck and scarring around his eyelids. Although he now has the donor’s face, he doesn’t resemble the donor, Rodriguez said.
“It’s a combination of two individuals, a true blend,” he said.
Norris’ vision was largely unaffected by the accident. Because of numerous reconstructive surgeries, his forehead and neck were mostly scar tissue. Norris had no teeth, no nose and only part of his tongue. He was still able to taste but could not smell.
“He could not smell for the past 15 years, and that was the most dramatic thing – immediately, on day three, he could finally smell,” Rodriguez said.
Doctors gave few details about the donor, citing the family’s desire for privacy.
The 36-hour operation was the most extensive because it included transplantation of the teeth, upper and lower jaw, a portion of the tongue and all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck, Rodriguez said.
Norris will require minor revisions, but those will be outpatient procedures, he said.
It was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure seven years ago.