By Hamish McKenzie
BALTIMORE | Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:00pm EDT
(Reuters) – Surgeons from the University of Maryland Medical Center on Tuesday detailed what they said was the world’s most comprehensive face transplant – allowing a 37-year-old man to emerge from behind a mask 15 years after a gun accident almost killed him.
Richard Norris of Hillsville, Virginia, was shot in the face in 1997 and lost his nose, lips and most movement in his mouth. Since then, he has had multiple life-saving and reconstructive surgeries but none could repair him to the extent where he felt he could return to society. He wore a prosthetic nose and a mask even when entering hospital for the transplant.
But last week, during a 36-hour operation, University of Maryland doctors gave him a new face from an anonymous donor whose organs saved five other patients’ lives on the same day.
Six days after the surgery, he could already move his tongue and open and close his eyes and was 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.