Imagine being so disfigured you would rarely leave home. That was Richard Norris' life for 15 years until two years ago when he had the most extensive facial transplant ever done in the world.
In part two of this special report we learn more about what was transplanted have more on the surgery and you'll also see the life changing results as Richard Norris faces the future.
Nearly a decade after a gun accident left Richard Norris severely disfigured he had lost all hope and then Richard met Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
The two began talking about the prospect of a full facial transplant.
"Basically removing the face he lived with for so many years with the hopes of putting on a new one," said Dr. Rodriguez. "And if that doesn't work we're worse off than we ever even started."
The preparation was intense. Richard underwent countless exams and meetings with doctors as well as mental health professionals at the University of Maryland Medical Center before a decision was made of whether he would go forward with the surgery.
His family was involved. Richard's mom remembers her talk with Dr. Rodriguez. "I said 'Do you think you can actually get him to look better?' You know it didn't matter to us how he looked, but it mattered to him." said Sandra Norris. "Dr. Rodriguez hugged me and he says 'Mrs. Norris I'll be with you all the way through. '"
Doctor Rodriguez put together a team of surgeons. "These are individuals that I specifically picked. I specifically trained," said Dr. Rodriguez. "We also rehearsed. We did these transplant simulations on cadavers in preparation for Richard's specific procedure."
While the medical team prepared, there was still one huge hurdle - finding a donor. Weeks and months went by and Richard waited. And then a phone call on a Sunday in March of 2012. Doctors thought they had a donor.
A 21-year-old had been hit by a van in Baltimore and declared brain dead. Josh Aversano had recently enlisted in the Marine Corps and he'd been an emergency volunteer, just like Richard. His parents made the decision to donate.
The surgery took place in March of 2012 with a team of five surgeons led by Dr. Rodriguez and 150 medical professionals working for 36 hours.
And then came the day when Richard would see his new face for the first time. I asked him what it was like. "Speechless I mean there's really no words to explain it," said Richard Norris.
His mom says there was not a dry eye in the room.
It's now been almost two years since that surgery. "I feel good. I feel good. I haven't had any complications," said Richard Norris.
When you just look at Richard you can't tell he's had surgery. The scars are well hidden.
Richard and his parents have met the donor's family. "How do you tell somebody 'Thank you' when they've lost someone that's so dear to them, It was very difficult," said Richard.
"They had a picture of Richard on one side and a picture of Josh and the resemblance was so close I know my heart skipped a beat," said Sandra Norris. "Because I thought 'oh my gosh their worst day was our best day.' What do you say to someone like that?"
Was there some kind of divine intervention going on to make this all come together? Was there something more at work than just science?
"You know I think there is no question about it," said Dr. Rodriguez. "Something much more than the physical was going on there."
"A miracle is something that seem impossible but happens and that's what it was," said Richard.
Note: The black and white pictures in the video are copyright to Coos Hamburger 2012. All Rights Reserved. Click here to see more photos: http://www.thetwofacesofrichard.com/
Coming up in Part Three: It wasn't just the skin and underlying muscle that was transplanted but the donor's teeth, tongue and jaw. We'll have more on just what was involved in surgery. We'll also follow Richard's recovery not just in Hillsville but we head to New York City as he continues his treatment at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Click here to read Part One of the story: http://www.wdbj7.com/news/local/facing-the-future-follow-up-on-hillsville-man-two-years-after-facial-transplant/-/20128466/24395306/-/item/1/-/okdrp2/-/index.html