World

Woman meets man who received dead brother's face for transplant

It is an extraordinary moment.

One that sounds like a line from fiction.

In an emotional meeting, a woman has finally met the man who received her dead brother's face in a transplant. 

Richard Norris' face was severely disfigured in a self-inflicted shooting accident in 1997 when he was 22.

Joshua Aversano, from Maryland,  was run over and killed in a traffic accident while crossing the street three years ago. He was 21.

His family took the bold decision to donate Joshua's face to Norris.

 

A familiar face

Looking at Norris for the first time since the transplant, Aversano's sister Rebekah is emotional as she touches his face.

Astonished, Aversano says: "Wow...This is the face I grew up with!"

This meeting was filmed by 60 Minutes Australia and the full episode will be broadcast this weekend. 

Norris, now 39, thanks Joshua's family. The new face has helped some way in some way to end 15 years of torment.

 

 

Horrible comments before transplant

Norris recalls that life before the transplant was miserable.

The gunshot blast had taken hi nose,cheeks, tongue, teeth and jaw.

Only his eyes appeared to be unscathed. What he was left with made him ashamed of his appearance.

He was virtually a hermit, living with his parents in rural Virginia.

He would only go out at night to minimise contact with people. Even then he would wear masks to cover his injuries.

Despite dozens of conventional operations to repair his face, nothing worked. He was left depressed and suicidal.

He said: “I’ve heard all kinds of remarks. A lot of them were really horrible,” he said.

But the face transplant saved his life. 

 

We can see our son in him

In March 2012, a team at the University of Maryland medical centre took 36 hours in March 2012 to transplant teeth, a jaw, tongue muscles and nerves.

Joshua's mother, Gwen, told Canada's CNTV: “We can definitely see our son in him. Some of the facial features would definitely be our son"

She added: "We are just so pleased we have been able to help him. Even though we had such a tragic loss, we were able to give someone else the benefit of our son.”

But while Norris may feel like he has his life back to an extent, it's still a struggle.

Norris' doctor, who performed the operation, Eduardo Rodriguez, says Norris faces a very long road ahead.

His body will always regard the new face as a foreign object. This will prompt attacks by his immune system.

He will have to take a cocktail of powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. The minor sacrifice would be that Norris will never be allowed to smoke, drink or get sunburned.

When he had the operation, Norris was given a 50 per cent chance of survival.

Of the 27 facial transplants to have been performed since the first in 2005, four of the recipients have died. 

 

Source: Guardian, GQ

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