All you have to do is look around the Norris home in Hillsville to realize faith is huge for this family. A cross hangs on one wall and a religious painting on another. "Without faith you'd be lost," said Sandra Norris.
So when Sandra Norris called her son Richard's surgery a miracle she meant it. "I just can't get over the miracle. It's a miracle," said Sandra Norris.
Richard Norris had the world's most extensive facial transplant in March of 2012 at 37 years old. Lead surgeon Doctor Eduardo Rodriguez explained what was transplanted from the donor. In short, it's mind-boggling.
"The upper jaw which provides a skeleton for the nose and the skeleton around the eye sockets, the teeth of the upper jaw, the lower jaw with the teeth and also the inside lining of the mouth," Dr. Rodriguez explained.
Doctors also transplanted the skin that included part of the hair and the eye brows, the nose, the lips and the tongue.
When asked if he ever had reservations about having such an extensive surgery this was Richard Norris' answer: "I didn't have a second thought to it," Norris said.
Now, nearly two years since his surgery at home in Hillsville Richard Norris is learning to talk again. He read aloud simple sentences. "The red ball bounced down the road," Norris recited.
"I had a tongue transplant. You use the tongue to make sounds so I have to relearn that," Norris said.
He's also doing other things he could not do before: brushing his teeth and eating solid food again.
What is his favorite food and is nice to finally taste food again? "Actually it's something really simple. It's fried potatoes, pinto beans and cornbread," Norris said.
Life, however, is anything but simple for Norris. He calls his life a research project and he travels a lot. Not just to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore where Dr. Rodriguez led the surgery but now to New York City where Dr. Rodriguez is now the Chairman of the Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center.
We visited NYU Langone Medical Center's Department of Plastic Surgery on a day when Richard was receiving followup treatment. Dr. Rodriguez asked him to move his mouth and try to smile as he checked Richard's progress.
"Looks great. Looks really good. I'm proud of you," said Dr. Rodriguez.
Next, it was onto a dental exam where a dentist who specializes in reconstructive surgery, Dr. Lawrence Brecht examined Richard's new teeth.
As he worked, Dr. Brecht asked Richard about Hillsville. "So do you know, is there is snow back in Hillsville?" Dr. Brecht asked.
Yes, they've all heard of Hillsville here and it's no wonder. Richard now visits NYU Langone Medical center about once a month and when he's there he has appointments sometimes from six or seven in the morning all the way up until the evening.
"He looks great," said Dr. Rodriguez. "The quality of the tissue is very healthy. The skeletal position of his mid face and low face are in alignment. The quality of his teeth are very good."
And Doctor Rodriguez sees something else. "You can see the individual that I met back in 2005 is very different than the person I see today. He is just out there. He no longer wears his mask. He doesn't even wear a baseball cap."
We ventured out in New York City with Richard on a very cold winter day.
As we chatted over coffee at a Manhattan diner. I asked him how it feels to be just part of the crowd. "The same way you feel. Just like the average person," said Richard. "You don't want a lot of attention drawn to yourself."
"He's not concealing himself. He loves every part of life and you can see it.," said Dr. Rodriguez. "And to see how well he's doing not only physically but emotionally It's very rewarding."
A Department of Defense grant paid for the surgery. Richard Norris' case could help servicemen and women coming back from war who suffer the same type of injuries.
And he's now volunteering his time to counsel others who may undergo facial surgery.
In Part Four: amazing things that have happened in his recovery that have even surprised the doctors.
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/