'He has his life back': U.S. doctors give gun accident victim a new face, tongue and jaw in most extensive face transplant ever

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UPDATED:

21:54 GMT, 27 March 2012

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.

Officials at the University of Maryland Medical Center announced today that Richard Lee Norris is recovering well after last week's 36-hour surgery.

He is beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving. He's also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.

Richard Lee Norris

Before: Richard Lee Norris before the tragic shooting accident

Richard Lee Norris

After the accident: Mr Norris wasn't happy after 12 plastic surgeries

Richard Lee Norris

Now: With his new face, teeth, tongue and jaw after extensive surgery

For 15 years, Mr Norris
lived as a recluse, hiding behind a mask and only coming out at night time.

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.

after injury

Before transplant

Scans show Norris' injury before the damaged areas were removed and then after

after transplant

'Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it's really amazing.'

The surgeons are calling it the
world's most comprehensive face transplant which allowed the Virginia
man to emerge from behind his mask after 15 years.

When he shot himself in the face in
1997 he lost his nose, lips and most movement in his mouth. He has had
multiple life-saving, reconstructive surgeries but none as successful as
this.

He received the new face from an anonymous donor last week whose organs saved five other patients' lives on the same day.

Six days after the surgery, he can
already move his tongue and open and close his eyes and is recovering
much faster than doctors expected.

'He's
actually looking in the mirror shaving and brushing his teeth, which we
never even expected,' said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of
surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and head of
the transplant team, who spoke at a press conference.

When Norris opened his eyes on the third day after the surgery with his family around him, he wanted to see a mirror.

'He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me,' said Dr Rodriguez.

'Surreal experience': Lead surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez explains how the procedure successfully replaced the 38-year-old's face, teeth, tongue and jaw

'Surreal experience': Lead surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez explains how the procedure successfully replaced the 38-year-old's face, teeth, tongue and jaw

Life-changing: This gallery of images on display at the University of Maryland Medical Center shows the various stages of transformation of Richard Lee Norris before and after his gun accident

Life-changing: This gallery of images on display at the University of Maryland Medical Center shows the various stages of transformation of Richard Lee Norris before and after his gun accident

Mr Norris's face transplant seems to
be the most aesthetically successful to date, according to photographs
and video shared with reporters at a press conference. He is still
recovering in
the hospital and did not appear at the media event.

Dr Rodriguez explains how the operation replaced all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck

Dr Rodriguez explains how the operation replaced all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck

'We concealed all the lines so it would give him the most immediate best appearance with minimal touch-ups down the road.'

To ensure Mr Norris would retain
maximum function of his facial expressions and movements, doctors gave
him a new tongue for proper speech, eating, and chewing, normally
aligned teeth, and connected his nerves to allow for smiling.

The transplant was 'an amazing feat', said the dean of the School of Medicine, Dr E. Albert Reece at the press conference.

'It's also an unprecedented and
historic procedure that we believe will change, if you will, the face of
medicine now and in the future,' Reece said.

Norris's transplant comes on the
heels of successful face transplants in Forth Worth, Texas, and Boston,
Massachusetts, last year. He is the first full face transplant recipient
in the United States to retain his eyesight.

A virtual army of 100 doctors,
scientists and other university medical staff ranging from plastic
surgeons to craniofacial specialists teamed up for the operation.

The surgery involved ten years of
research funded by the Department of Defense's Office of Naval Research,
and will serve as a model for helping war veterans injured by
improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, the university said.

'Amazing': The operation by Dr Rodriguez and his team took 36 hours and is believed to be the most extensive procedure of its kind ever performed

'Amazing': The operation by Dr Rodriguez and his team took 36 hours and is believed to be the most extensive procedure of its kind ever performed

Rodriguez saluted the work of the
teams around the world that had conducted the 22 face transplants to
date, without which, he said, this operation would not have been
possible.

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 U.S. in
2008.

'This accidental injury just
destroyed everything. The rest of his friends and colleagues went on to
start getting married, having children, owning homes. He wants to make up for all of that'

The Department of Defense 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 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 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.'

MAKING MEDICAL HISTORY: THE WORLD'S FIRST FACE TRANSPLANTS

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2005: The first ever face transplant was performed in 2005 on a 38-year-old French patient, Isabelle Dinoire, who had to have the surgery after a large part of her face was ripped off in a horrific dog attack.

She was unable to speak or eat properly because of her injuries. Her new face was transplanted from a woman of 46 who died from a severe loss of blood to the brain.

connie culp

2008: The first person to receive a face transplant in the U.S. was Connie Culp, from Ohio. The now 48-year-old was operated on in 2008 after her top lip, nose, roof of her mouth, one eye and both cheeks were destroyed by then husband Tom, who brutally shot her in the face after flying into a rage.

Surgeons spent months trying to fix the damage by trying numerous plastic surgery procedures but it took a donor's face mized with part of her own for it to work.

image001.jpg

2010: A Spanish farmer, known only as Oscar, was horribly in 2005 a shooting accident, which prevented him from breathing normally and made it difficult to swallow or speak. After two years of planning, a team of 30 doctors started work on him in March 2010, in an operation which was to last 24 hours.

The transplant included complete facial skin and muscles, eyelids, nose, lips, upper jaw, all his teeth, the palate, cheekbones and lower jaw.

ch

2010: Charla Nash, from Stamford, Connecticut, was so severely mauled by a 200-pound chimpanzee called Travis that belonged to her friend, that she lost her eyesight, hands and face.

Nash received a face and hand transplant in 2010 over 72 hours of operations in total. Her hands later had to be removed after infection set in. She is now suing the state of Connecticut.

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2011: Dallas Wiens became the first man in the U.S. to receive a face transplant after suffering life-threatening burns when he fell off a lift platform and slammed into a live power cable that seared off his face.

A team of 30 doctors, nurses, anaesthesiologists and residents performed the transplant at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, replacing Wiens' nose, lips, facial skin, muscles of facial animation and nerves.

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2012: Ugur Acar, 19, from Turkey, suffered serious burns to his face during a house fire when he was just 40 days old. He underwent several procedures through his life until he received the cosmetic procedure to repair his face in January at Akdeniz University's School of Medicine in the country.

Doctors successfully transplanted tissue from the face of a 45-year-old donor to Mr Acar.