After a Terrible Shooting Accident He Gets a New Face. Here’s How He Looks Now
After a sudden shotgun blast that blew out his nose, chin, teeth and lips, Richard Norris would have died for a new face. As it happens, someone did. Richard Norris received a face transplant from Joshua Aversana, 21, who was struck by a car and killed in 2012.
Even though he survived his accidental shooting at the age of 22, Richard Norris often wished he were dead in the 15 years to follow. Seriously disfigured, Norris lost the ability to eat or speak. People stared at him on the street in horror. The Virginia native began to sneak out of the house only at night, which intensified his feeling of being a freakish outcast. His despair was so great that he attempted suicide several times, only to fail and continue life with the same horrific disfigurement.
When he attempted suicide, Norris was without hope for any quality of life. He didn’t realize that, even then, surgeons were exploring the concept of transplanting new faces for people just like him.
Today, facial transplants have become a reality. Like other transplant procedures, a patient is placed on a waiting list after qualifying in several areas. An extensive screening process is implemented, with a psychiatric and social support evaluation. A number of imaging tests are made to determine a successful outcome. Searches for a suitable donor can take many months. Tissue matches must be made – and someone with matching tissue must die.
When a donor is discovered, the patient has to be immediately available for the surgical procedure. That means the patient must reside in a 12-hour radius of a hospital able to do the transplant.
The most commonly grafted facial areas are the mid-face region and the nose and lips. The intricate surgery includes connecting all the facial blood vessels to restore circulation immediately. After this, nerves and muscles are attached as needed. When the surgery is complete, about 36 hours, the patient can expect a two-day stay in the ICU. In recovery, a physical therapist will work with the individual to restore as much facial movement as possible. A psychiatrist will be on call to discuss psychological issues that may arise.
Joshua’s shocked parents were just beginning to realize their terrible loss when Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez entered the hospital room where they mourned their dead son. He issued his strange appeal: To be allowed to transplant the face of their dead son onto Norris, now 37.
Joshua’s parents were shocked at the ghoulish request. The procedure sounded like something out of a Frankenstein film!
Finally, they agreed. Perhaps their loss could help someone else.
Meanwhile, Norris’s chance for survival was only 50 percent. No one had ever replaced someone’s entire face with that of a dead man. Norris never hesitated. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Richard Norris survived the lengthy surgery and awakened with the eerie new face of someone else. Even the teeth and tongue resembled those of another human being. Psychologists maintain that face transplants present unique identity challenges for recipients. The face in the mirror has changed.
In Norris’s case, the identity crisis was overruled by the joy of feeling like a normal person again.
However, his new life was about to become stranger than fiction. Three years after the surgery, he was visited by the sister of the man whose face he now has.
Richard Norris’s face presented a strange, animated replica of Rebecca Aversana’s brother that stunned her. She was viewing the living image of the brother she had known and loved for 21 years before his untimely death.
Richard Norris gained a new face, for which he is eternally grateful to the Aversana family. Rebecca Aversana and her family gained a living memorial to a brother lost too soon.