How a face transplant helped suicide survivor get his life back

Cameron Underwood was just a typical man in his 20s, enjoying an active life in California—on the outside. But like so many others, Underwood was inwardly struggling with depression.

According to People magazine, Underwood started drinking alcohol as a way to cope with his problem, until one day he took a turn for the worse. After another round of drinking, Underwood attempted suicide by shooting himself under the chin. He survived the attempt but sustained deep injuries to his face.

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Underwood’s mother, Bev Bailey-Potter, told People she was shocked when she saw the extent of his injuries. His face was disfigured to the point of making it difficult to speak, eat or smile.

After Underwood was released from the hospital, he used a bandanna or mask to cover himself in public.

Then, Underwood’s mom saw an article in People about a face transplant program headed by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez. The program was underway at the New York University Langone Medical Center. Bailey-Potter knew this was what her son needed to heal the past and move forward with life again.

According to the center’s website, the pioneering transplant is a complex surgery that transfers facial tissue from a deceased donor to an approved candidate. The surgery takes around 25 hours to perform and involves the expert knowledge of over 100 medical doctors and staff.

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The program is designed to help people suffering severe disfigurement to improve their quality of life.

For Underwood, the doctors moved relatively quickly to match him with a donor. The young man received his transplant surgery a mere 18 months after his injury, NYU Langone Medical Center states.

Underwood’s donor was a 23-year-old aspiring writer and filmmaker named Will Fisher who had died suddenly. Fisher himself had suffered from mental illness for several years.

But Fisher and his family’s sacrifice has allowed Underwood to return to a more normal life again.

NYU Langone Medical Center now features Underwood’s story as inspiration for others dealing with similar challenges.

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“The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it,” Underwood said.