BALTIMORE, Md. (WUSA) -- A Virginia man's face was fully transformed last week after being destroyed in a gun accident 15 years ago.
Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore performed a 36-hour marathon procedure on Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia that is being hailed as the most comprehensive face transplant performed to date.
The procedure replaced both jaws, teeth and the tongue. Plus, doctors replaced the soft parts of the face from the hairline to the neck.
Dr. Albert Reece, Vice President of Medical Affairs at the University of Maryland says, "This is a truly amazing feat!"
Reece adds, "It's also an unprecedented and historical procedure that will believe to change, if you will, the face of medicine now and into the future."
Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, and his team tried 12 times in the past to surgically improve Lee's face, but none were able to repair it.
Rodriguez says, "Recognizing that there were differences in what we have done in the past and how do we improve this. We also modified the surgical regimen to involve the most innovative technologies including computerized surgical planning and stealth technologies to navigation."
Dr. Rodriguez unveiled Richard Norris' new face for the first time today during a press conference at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The room erupted with clapping.
Norris was impressed with the procedure. Rodriguez says, "He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me."
Rodriguez also seems impressed with the procedure.
"Rodriguez adds, "He can move his tongue, he can open and close his eyes. He's beginning to feel his face, he is actually looking in the mirror shaving and brushing his teeth, which we never expected."
The Office of Naval Research provides funding to the University of Maryland for research in how to make these incredibly complex transplants work. The donated tissue was provided by the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland.
Stephen T. Bartlett, Surgeon-in-Chief at the University of Maryland School of Medicine says, "What evolved was a research program supported by 8 grants by the office of naval research over the past 10 years to allow us to understand all the complex barriers mainly technical and immunilogic that would be necessary to restore these soldiers to form and function."
Bartlett adds, "We now have a very safe and practical model for transplanting these patients with lower doses of immune suppression that we had thought made these transplants both safe and practical."