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Physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center spoke publicly about the nation’s most comprehensive face transplant during a news conference Tuesday.
Richard Norris, 37, received the complete face transplant, which included upper and lower jaw bones, teeth, a portion of the tongue and soft tissue from the hairline to the neck – over the course of 36 hours, starting on March 19.
Norris, of Hillsville, Va., who was injured in a gun accident in 1997, had lost his lips and nose and had limited use of his mouth, according to doctors. He had undergone multiple surgeries prior to the transplant.
“A full composite maxillo-facial transplant also includes subcutaneous tissue and muscles and the nerves that innovate or move those muscles, which gives your face expression, provide sensation and also the bony structure that goes along the face – so it’s all the way through,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at Maryland’s School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who led the transplant with more than 150 doctors, nurses and hospital staff assisting.
Rodriguez said when he first met with Norris, his severe injuries prevented him from being a fully-integrated member of society.
“He was living behind a mask, living as a recluse,” Rodriguez said. “He did his shopping at night. He went through rigorous psychological testing, and he will continue to be followed for many years to make sure he’s fully integrated into society.”
Rodriguez said Norris was recovering better than he expected, and was already using a mirror to shave, moving his tongue. He is on a clear-liquid diet.
Some additional “nip/tucks” would still need to be done in the near future, but they would be outpatient procedures, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the donor also donated several other organs, saving the lives of many people.
This is the 23rd face transplant performed around the world. Several face transplants have been performed in the U.S., including three full-face transplants at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Those transplants, which were performed on Dallas Wiens and Charla Nash, were detailed in a 2011 issue of New England Journal of Medicine.
Rodriguez said this transplant differed from those in that it included the donor’s teeth and tongue and soft tissue ranging from the hairline to the clavicle. He added that the skeletal dimensions were larger, too.
The medical center said it has been researching face transplants for 10 years with grants from the Office of Naval Research and Department of Defense.