Last week, a 37 year old man from Virginia underwent an extensive surgery where he was given a new face, teeth, tongue, and jaw. Richard Lee Norris is the recipient of what University of Maryland physicians call the most extensive face transplant ever performed. After fifteen years of living as a recluse because of a gun incident that damaged his face, Norris is recovering well from surgery and can already feel his new face. He is now able to brush his teeth and shave, and he has regained his sense of smell.
The operation took 36 hours and it is the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing this type of procedure seven years ago. The reason this surgery was so extensive was because it required transplantation of the teeth, tongue, upper and lower jaw and all of the facial tissue from his scalp to the base of his neck.
Prior to this, the first face transplant in the U.S was done at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008. The first full transplant done was in France in 2005 for a woman who was mauled by her dog. Now, with transplants safer and more common, the Department of Defense has begun funding some face and hand surgeries as well. They hope to help wounded soldiers. So far, there have been over 1,000 soldiers that have lost an arm or leg in Afghanistan or Iraq and it is estimated that around 200 of them may possibly be eligible for a transplant. Doctors soon hope to be able to operate on military patients, seeing as the University of Maryland’s research on transplants was funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research.
Although few details were given in the article about how Norris got into the accident that led up to this surgery, officials did note that he graduated from high school in a small town in Virginia in 1993. Since the accident he has been unable to retain a full time job and has been staying with his parents.
His lead surgeon said, “The accidental injury just destroyed everything. The rest of his friends and colleagues went on to start getting married, having children and owning homes. He wants to make up for all of that”. Hopefully, with the successful transplant, he will regain a sense of self confidence and be able to reestablish himself as a full functioning member of society.