In what can be described as a scenario straight out of a Hollywood movie, hospital officials are convinced that Richard Lee Norris, of Hillsville, Va., is recovering well after a 36-hour full-face transplant surgery that does not only gave him a brand new appearance, but also functioning teeth, tongue, along with a new group of jaws.
Eduardo Rodriguez, charge surgeon for the operation, said he hoped the transplant will give Norris his life back after living for years as a recluse. Norris was shot hard in 1997 coupled with multiple life-saving and reconstructive surgeries since that time. While these surgeries allowed him to carry on living, his appearance prevented him from truly returning to society or holding a job. Prior to the surgery, Norris wore a prosthetic nose along with a mask whenever he left his parents´ house where he currently resides.
The transplanted face originated from an anonymous donor, whose family had been consulted specifically about donating the face along with several other life-saving organs. Rodriguez said Norris´s new face did not resemble the donor´s and is “a combination of two individuals, a true blend.”
Over 150 doctors, nurses, and medical staffers were active in the groundbreaking operation. The process, which used innovative surgical and computerized techniques, is built to give Norris a more socially acceptable face with complete functionality. Prior to the surgery, Norris had no nose and only a part of his tongue. He was able to taste food but could not smell it.
“He couldn’t smell within the last 15 years, which was probably the most dramatic thing: immediately, on the third day, he could finally smell,” Rodriguez said according to The Guardian.
There have been several concerns with the procedure in the past both ethical and medical. These concerns primarily revolve around the possibility of the transplant failing. Ethicists critical from the procedure say improperly functioning facial muscles could cause a worse situation for the patient. Experts, like Iain Hutchison, of Barts and also the London Hospital, who criticize the process based on medical grounds, say blood vessels within the donated tissue could clot, immunosuppressants could fail, or the procedure might boost the patient’s chance of cancer.
Researchers in the University of Maryland discovered that transplants involving a lot of bone marrow using its own blood supply saw fewer or no rejections of transplanted tissue, Norris´s surgeon Rolf Barth said. Norris will have to take immunosuppressant drugs throughout his life, but the jawbone transplant could mean a lower risk of rejection, based on Barth.
The surgery seemed to be enabled by research funded by the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research. So that they can enhance the quality of reconstructive surgery for injured veterans, the department has committed to both hand and facial surgery research. The federal government estimates that 200 troops might be eligible for face transplants.
This was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure seven years ago. The first full face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on the woman who was mauled by a Labrador. In that operation, teams of doctors grafted a nose, lips, and a chin to the face of the 38-year-old mother of two.