12:07am UK, Wednesday March 28, 2012
A man injured in a gun accident 15 years ago has been given a new face, tongue, teeth and jaw in what surgeons claim is the world's most comprehensive face transplant.
Richard Norris, 37, was shot in the face in 1997 and lost his nose, lips and most movement in his mouth.
Since then he has undergone 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 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.
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.
Before the surgery, Mr Norris, who is unmarried and lives with his parents in Virginia, had been unable to find a job because of his facial deformity, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Mr Norris's face transplant seems to be the most aesthetically successful to date, according to photographs and video released by the university.
To ensure 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," according to the dean of the School of Medicine, Dr E Albert Reece.
"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," he added.
About 100 doctors, scientists and other university medical staff ranging from plastic surgeons to craniofacial specialists teamed up for the operation.
The surgery involved 10 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.