The LLF History: Groundbreaking Facial Transplant Surgery

On this day in The LLF history…

March 19-20, 2012

In a series of four photos provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center and a June 18, 2013 Associated Press photo, face transplant recipient Richard Norris, the recipient of the most extensive face transplant performed to date, is seen in a prom photo, from left to right, a photo taken before his face transplant, a photo made six days after the transplant and a photo made 114 days after the transplant. Norris received the transplant in a 36-hour operation in March 2012. It included the replacement of both jaws, teeth, tongue, and skin and underlying nerve and muscle tissue from scalp to neck. Norris was injured in a gun accident in 1997. Photo: University of Maryland Medical Center and Patrick Semansky

Exactly five years ago today, a man came out of a 36-hour groundbreaking procedure at University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore. A team of 150 professional staff led by Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriquez had the enormous task of completely rebuilding the patient’s face. While it was the 22nd time in history that such a task had ever been taken on and the first time in the state of Maryland, the procedure stands as a miracle of modern medicine to this day.

The surgery was the most extensive facial transplant at the time; a culmination of over ten years of research and preparation. The recipient, Richard Norris, was the victim of an accidental gunshot wound to the face in 1997. He had almost thirty different surgeries attempting to even slightly improve his condition after the accident, but nothing worked. However, when he began talking with Dr. Rodriquez at UMMC about transplant options, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. Almost twelve years later, that hope became reality. Thanks to medical advancements and the generosity of a donor and his family, Richard received an extensive face transplant. Teeth, skin tissue, tongue, muscles, nerves, and more were reconstructed during this marathon surgery.

As Maryland’s organ procurement organization, The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland played a vital role in working with the donor family and providing support throughout the entire process. Donations such as a face, hands, and genital are considered vascular composite allografts (VCA) and are not covered in the general consent covered by registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor. These types of donation require additional consent from the family after the donor’s death. The donor for Richard’s face transplant not only provided the skin and tissue for the facial transplant, he also provided life-saving organs to five other people in need.

Following the successful facial transplant, Richard is catching up on the life he missed out on. He shares the message of donation and transplantation whenever possible and is living proof that medicine and human generosity can create miracles.  He wants to be a symbol of hope for people like him.

We salute the donor and his family, doctors, nurses, professional staff, and recipient who took part in this groundbreaking medical achievement. Your story inspires our work every day.

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