Richard Lee Norris

March 28, 2012 by staff 

Richard Lee Norris, A 37-year-old Virginia man injured in a 1997 gun accident has been given a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw in what University of Maryland physicians say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.

University of Maryland Medical Center officials announced Tuesday that Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville is recovering well after last week’s surgery, beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving. He’s also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.

Norris has spent the past 15 years living as a recluse, and the transplant will give him his life back, said lead surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“It’s a surreal experience to look at him. It’s hard not to stare. Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity,” Rodriguez said. “Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it’s really amazing.”

It was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure seven years ago.

The 36-hour operation was the most extensive because it included transplantation of the teeth, tongue, upper and lower jaw and all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck, Rodriguez said. Because it included so much facial tissue, the incisions are farther back and less visible, he said. CBS News station WUSA in Washington D.C. reported a team of over 150 nurses and medical staff were involved in the procedure.

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