Face transplant recipient makes GQ cover

The man fronting next month's GQ cover is not a movie star or a pop icon.

He is not known for smouldering good looks, either. It is quite the opposite.

For many years, Mr Richard Lee Norris, 39, lived like a recluse in his home in Hillsville, Virginia, hiding his disfigured face behind a mask. 

The American had injured himself in a gun accident when he was 22. He lost his nose, sense of smell and part of his tongue, and underwent multiple life-saving operations.

Back then, Mr Norris didn't like being stared at and would only go out at night.​

It is a far cry from the man he is today.

A new beginning

In 2012, he underwent a surgery with a 50 per cent chance of survival.

An army of 100 doctors worked for 36 hours to give him a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw.

Mr Norris said in the months after the surgery: “People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement. Now they can stare at me in amazement and in the transformation I have undergone.

“I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look. I can now start working on the new life given back to me.”

Lead surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, said back then that Mr Norris did not look like his donor.

“It’s a combination of two individuals, a true blend,” he said.

A different purpose

What doctors achieved during the controversial surgery was groundbreaking. Because of that, Mr Norris is now a lab rat of sorts.

GQ quoted Mr Norris' mother as saying: "I don't think he'll ever be able to work like in a normal life. He spends his time in hospitals, everybody poking and prodding, studying him. A boss don't want somebody that's gonna be absent 99 per cent of the time."

But the man is apparently more than happy to fulfil the role. He is also more confident, venturing beyond his home a lot more often than before.

A beacon of hope

The life-changing surgery, however, has some life-threatening consequences.

Mr Norris will have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life as his immune system will always think of the face as a foreign entity and attack it, reported Mail Online.

The cocktail of drugs lowers his immune system, leaving him susceptible to a host of other health problems.

A serious rejection would result in death for Mr Norris, whose eyes and back of the throat are the only things left of his old face, reported GQ. He has had two reactions so far.

But these consequences are the furthest things from his mind. He wants to give hope to those suffering severe facial injuries.

"A drop of hope can create an ocean," he told GQ. "But a bucket of faith can create an entire world."

GQ's August cover. Read their story on Mr Norris here.

Sources: Mail Online, GQ, Express