Three years ago, Richard Norris underwent a 36-hour groundbreaking operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
In 1997, Norris accidentally blew his face off with a shotgun, leaving him disfigured with no nose, lips or teeth. The Virginia man lived in hiding, as he was depressed about his disfigured face till he found a donor.
Twenty-one-year-old Joshua Aversano of White Hall, Maryland died after he was hit by a van. His family decided to donate his face to Norris. After three years, a television program in Australia invited the family of the donor and Norris for a show. The meeting was the first time Aversano saw her brother's face on Norris.
Facial transplants carry many challenges for the recipients. For their whole lives, they must remain on immune-suppressing drugs for their whole lives so their bodies don't reject the transplant. They also need extensive physical therapy to gain control of the facial muscles, to be able to speak and eat.
"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," Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
A team of 150 doctors and nurses helped for the surgery. The Aversano family says they hope it inspires others, raising awareness for organ donation.