Last week surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the most extensive face transplant ever completed. 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris received donor skin from his scalp to his neck as well as a new nose, tongue, jaw bones and teeth.
Six days after surgery, Norris is already beginning to feel his face and, incredibly, has regained his sense of smell after 15 years.
Disfigured in a gun accident in 1997, Norris had lost his lips and nose and only had partial use of his mouth. His injuries were so dramatic he had shut himself off from the world prior to this life-changing surgery.
The 36-hour operation was made possible by an unnamed donor who matched Norris's blood type, skin color and bone structure. Surgeons then had the complex task of attaching the donor skin along with underlying muscle and tissue.
Norris's new face appears to be a blend of his own and those of the donor, who also provided five other live-saving organs to various recipients.
While Norris will be required to take a course of anti-rejection medication, the team at the University of Maryland worked for the past decade on improving transplant methodology. They refined how the donor tissue and muscle are connected, and along with improvements in anti-rejection medication they expect the odds of acceptance by a recipient to be increased.
The Department of Defense's Office of Naval Research funded the work with eight grants totaling $13 million. Their hope is that improvements in the field of facial transplants, will be able to help injured troops returning from combat.
The first full-face transplant was performed in 2010 by surgeons in Spain.
While Norris is not able to fully speak yet he has seen his new face in the mirror and hugged his surgeon. One can only imagine what he is feeling seeing his transformation.
Perhaps one of the surgeons put it best however as quoted in The Baltimore Sun, "This is so cool."
You can view a press conference about the procedure here.