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Doctors Call World's First Full Face Transplant A Resounding Success

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., Chief of Plastic, Reconstructive and Maxillofacial surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center talks with reporters about the most extensive full face transplant completed to date performed on Richard Lee Norris, pictu
Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., Chief of Plastic, Reconstructive and Maxillofacial surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center talks with reporters about the most extensive full face transplant completed to date performed on Richard Lee Norris, pictu
Carol Pearson

U.S. doctors have performed what they say is the most extensive face transplant ever. In addition to getting an entirely new face, the male patient also received a new jaw, new teeth and a tongue. Our reporter has more on the surgical procedure that has been restoring people's lives.

It's been little more than six years between this news conference in France and this one at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

In 2005, French doctors stunned the world by announcing they had given Isabelle Dinoire a donor's nose, lips, chin and parts of her cheek. Dinoire had been horribly disfigured by a dog attack.

At the University of Maryland on March 27, doctors unveiled a picture of Richard Norris when he was 18, a nice-looking man before a gun accident cost him his nose, lips and most movement of his mouth and jaw. His disfigurement had made him a recluse.

In an operation that lasted 36 hours, Norris received new upper and lower jaws, new teeth and most of the donor's tongue in addition to his face from the scalp to the neck.   

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez led the surgical team.

"[This is] Mr. Richard Norris only six days after his surgical procedure," he said.

"When we look at the donor and we look at the recipient, obviously it's a blend of two individuals," said Rodriguez. "Clearly there are some specific features, like the nose and maybe chin, but behind that soft tissue draping, behind that skin, it is Richard Norris."

Milestones in face transplant surgery

  • 2012 U.S. - University of Maryland physicians carry out what they call the most extensive face transplant ever performed.
  • 2011 U.S. - Three full face transplants performed at Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • 2008 U.S. - Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic perform the first face transplant to include bone, muscle, skin, blood vessel and nerve transplants
  • 2008 France - Doctors perform what they call the world's first successful full face transplant
  • 2005 France - Isabelle Dinoire becomes the first person to undergo a face transplant after her face was ravaged by her dog

For the past 10 years, the medical center has worked to perfect surgical treatments for injured war veterans.

The medical team says Norris's surgery is the most extensive full-face transplant to date and the first time a face transplant was performed by a surgical team that specializes in facial and reconstructive surgery and dentistry. Dr. Rodriguez recalls Norris's reaction after seeing his new face.

''He put the mirror down and he thanked me and hugged me," he said. "It was a wonderful gift to give him.  And ever since that day, we could see that we were going to restore those 15 years that he lost and make him a functioning member of society once again."

Only six days after surgery, doctors said they are pleased with his progress.

''Richard Norris as we see him today with a skeleton," said Dr. Rodriguez. "Everything has been perfectly aligned, restoring the normal height, width and projection."

The doctors say the experience gained in previous face transplants beginning with that first one in France, helped them perfect the technique they used to give Richard Norris a second chance at a normal life.

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