A Hillsville man is making medical history. He had the world's most extensive facial transplant ever done. Now almost two years after the surgery, WDBJ's Jean Jadhon caught up with Richard Norris. She traveled to his home in Hillsville and to New York City to see how his recovery is going.
In a series of five special reports all this week on WDBJ and WDBJ7.com, I had the honor of meeting Richard Norris. I talked with him at his home in Hillsville and we traveled to New York City to see how his recovery is going as he "Faces The Future."
How it All Began: Part One
"He had a lot of energy," said Sandra Norris. She's describing her son Richard. Richard Norris was like most boys growing up in Henry County.
"He was mischievous," said Frank Norris, Richard's dad.
And as he got older he did the things many teenagers did. "He mowed yards. Those ladies down in Fieldale loved to have him mow the yard he always made the yard look so pretty," said Sandra Norris.
"Just like the typical teenager. We went out cruising around hanging out with friends," said Rodney Billings, a longtime friend of Richard's. The two have known each other since the ninth grade.
"Richard was never shy. His personality was always the life of the party," said Billings. "Very facetious. Always funny. He always had something to crack you up with. "
Not long after high school at age 22, something was about to happen that would change Richard's life forever.
"When the gun went off and everything I was standing three feet from him," said Sandra Norris.
A shotgun had gone off accidentally as Richard grabbed it from a glass case at the family home. A shell had been left in the gun.
"You talk about moving fast. I didn't know I could run that fast," recalled Sandra Norris. "I went out in the yard and hollered help."
She then ran back inside. "I had him in my lap and I just kept talking to him and everything," she said.
Sandra Norris remembers one emergency worker in particular. "He looked at me and he said 'Sandra what can I do?' I said 'Pray. You just pray.'"
And pray the family did - for weeks as Richard lay in a hospital bed at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
"It was hard," said Sandra Norris as she wiped away tears.
"Seeing him for the first week or so we all thought we were telling him goodbye. We didn't think there was any hope," said Billings.
But Richard did survive. The accident, though, left him severely disfigured. He could not talk or eat any solid food. After six weeks in the hospital Richard went back home, but his life had changed.
"We used to go to a lot of races. We used to hunt together. Hunting was a big thing with us," said Frank Norris. "He'd take his vacation. I'd take mine. We'd hunt together. We did everything together but he just shut the world out. He didn't have no hope. His spirit was gone."
For years Richard spent most of his time inside his room. He would only go out after dark and then he would wear a mask.
That mask covered his disfigurement but it also caused fear. People starred.
And even police officers were afraid.
"They surrounded my car, pulled their guns, wanted to know what we doing over there. All we're trying to do is find a tackle place. Where they had bait and tackle," said Sandra Norris. "I had all these guns right at me. I thought 'Oh my gosh.'"
In the years that followed Richard did undergo numerous surgeries- too many to count, says his mom. "I got fed up with the band aid surgeries," said Sandra Norris.
Then in 2005 Richard met Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. After performing more than one surgery on Richard: "I had sort of reached a dead end as with regard with what I could achieve with current surgical technology," said Dr. Rodriguez.
Dr. Rodriguez thought it may be time to try something else.