A 37-year-old man injured in a 1997 gun accident has been given a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw in what doctors say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.
University of Maryland Medical Centre officials announced today that Richard Lee Norris is recovering well after last week’s surgery, beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving. He has also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.
Mr Norris has spent the past 15 years living as a recluse, and 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,” Dr Rodriguez said. “Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it’s really amazing.”
It was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure seven years ago.
The 36-hour operation was the most extensive because it included transplantation of the teeth, tongue, upper and lower jaw and all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck, Dr Rodriguez said. Because it included so much facial tissue, the incisions are farther back and less visible, he said.
The first full face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on a woman who was mauled by her dog. The Cleveland Clinic performed the first face transplant in the US in 2008.
The US department of defence has been funding some face and hand surgeries with the goal of helping wounded soldiers. More than 1,000 troops have lost an arm or leg in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the US government estimates that 200 troops might be eligible for face transplants.
The University of Maryland’s research on transplants was funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, and doctors said they hope to begin operating soon on military patients.
Officials provided little detail on Mr Norris or the circumstances of the accident.
“This accidental injury just destroyed everything. The rest of his friends and colleagues went on to start getting married, having children, owning homes,” Dr Rodriguez said. “He wants to make up for all of that.”