Published October 17, 2012
Seven months after receiving the most extensive full face transplant ever completed, 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris has been undergoing a successful recovery – regaining the ability to speak and show expression. The University of Maryland has recently released details on his amazing progress.
Norris, from Hillsville, Va., suffered a severe injury in 1997 when a gun accident resulted in the loss of his upper and lower jaws, along with his lips and nose. According to Norris, he has spent the past 15 years as a hermit, hiding behind a surgical mask and rarely going out in public. Now, he said the transplant surgery has not only transformed his face – but his life as well.
“People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement,” Norris said in a statement. “Now they can stare at me in amazement and in the transformation I have taken. I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look. My friends have moved on with their lives, starting families and careers. I can now start working on the new life given back to me."
Completed on March 20, 2012, Norris’s surgery involved replacing both jaws, teeth, tongue and skin – along with nerve and muscle tissue from his scalp to his neck. The 36-hour procedure was conducted by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"Our goal for Richard from the beginning was to restore facial harmony and functional balance in the most aesthetic manner possible through the complex transplantation of the facial bones, nerves, muscles, tongue, teeth and the associated soft tissues," said Rodriguez in a statement. "Richard is exceeding my expectations this soon after his surgery, and he deserves great deal of credit for the countless hours spent practicing his speech and strengthening his new facial muscles. He’s one of the most courageous and committed individuals I know."
So far, Norris is starting to once again use his face to perform simple tasks he could do before the accident. He can smile and show expression, and doctors said that the right side of his face is at about 80 percent normal motor function – while his left sided is at about 40 percent. He can also eat primarily with his mouth, and he has regained the ability to smell and taste.
"I am doing well. I spend a lot of my time fishing and working on my golf game. I am also enjoying time with my family and friends," Norris said. "I do still have follow-up appointments with a lot of different doctors and therapists to ensure everything is healing up properly. I have been undergoing physical therapy and also speech therapy. I have been doing very well regaining my speech back. Each day it improves a little more."