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March 27th, 2012
01:36 PM ET

36-hour face transplant 'most extensive' ever

A 37-year-old man received an extensive face transplant stretching from his hairline down to the neck, including a jaw, full set of teeth, tongue and cheeks. The surgery essentially replaced most of the patient’s face except for his eyes and the back remnant of his throat.

Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia, is the 23rd patient to receive a face transplant in the world.  His doctors at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center say this operation is the most extensive surgery of its kind because of the extent of the transplant and the placement of an entire set of teeth.

“The face will look like a blend of the donor as well as Richard,” said Dr.Eduardo D. Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  “There are some unique features, his nose, the chin that have been replaced in entirety. Other than that, it’s a combination of both individuals.”

The hospital did not release details about the anonymous donor, due to the family's request.  The family specifically consented to the face transplant procedure.  His heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were used to save the lives of five other patients, according to the hospital.

The 36-hour operation started at 4 a.m. on March 19 and ended the next day between 2 and 3 p.m.

Norris’ new face extends from the top of his head down to his clavicle.  The lines between his skin and the donor’s can be seen on his chest and his scalp, but they cannot be seen on his face.  The doctors involved in his operation said they concealed the lines as far back as possible and included the teeth so Norris could chew normally.

After a gunshot injury in 1997, Norris lost his lips, nose, portions of his mouth and the front portion of his tongue.  His tongue fused to the bottom of his mouth and he wore a trachea tube to breathe.  Despite receiving several surgeries and reconstructive procedures, he wore a mask to hide his face for the last 15 years.

He came to discuss reconstructive options with Rodriguez, chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Shock Trauma in 2005.

Chimpanzee attack victim gets new face – CNN.com

During surgery, doctors rebuilt his facial structure using the skeletal framework from the donor – including the cheekbones, chin and various tissues, such as blood vessels and muscles.

Three days after the surgery, Norris wanted to see a mirror, his doctor said.

Texas man gets first full face transplant in U.S.

“He was there with his parents,” Rodriguez said.  “It was one of the most emotional moments.  He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me.  We’re going to restore the 15 years he lost and make him a functioning member of society.”

After the surgery, Norris has been able to open and close his jaws, use his tongue, close his eyes, shave and brush his teeth. The patient is still hospitalized and was not present at the press conference Tuesday.

Like all transplant patients, Norris takes drugs to weaken his immune system so his body won’t reject the new tissue. This puts patients at risk to some extent because their immune systems are not as strong and more susceptible to infections. His doctors say because Norris received a transplant that included vascularized bone marrow in the jaw, there is a potential he may not need as much anti-rejection medication as standard patients.  But that remains to be seen.

“The goal would be never to remove full medication,” said Rodriguez.  “Ideally, we can reduce the amount of immune suppression way down the road.”

How much does a face transplant cost?


soundoff (290 Responses)
  1. lee

    amazing

    March 27, 2012 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sean

      That is awesome! Poor guy has been living behind a mask and now he'll be mask free! I can't imagine how emotional that must have been when he saw his new face. Makes me emotinal just thinking how good he must now feel about himself. What a great story!!! Hope this guy has a long happy life. Good luck buddy!

      March 27, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      Truly amazing. Either this guy was rich, had some good insurance to pay for this, or he was a guinea pig for experimental research. It would be unaffordable for the average guy, costing a fortune.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
  2. Duane

    WOW! Amazing how far medicine has come to give someone a semblance of life back after such a tragic life changing event

    March 27, 2012 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Diane

    I hope that he will have a quick recovery and be able to live a more normal life,

    March 27, 2012 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • somuchfor

      Me too.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  4. Sam

    That's impressive! Very happy for you. You look great.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chuck

      Yes, he does look good, doesn't he. What a great transformation.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
  5. svscnn

    Astounding what modern medical science can accomplish today! Wishing much future happiness to Mr. Norris.

    And much appreciation for the doctors and the family of the donor. I'm an agnostic, but, if there is a god, you are all surely blessed.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fofo

      Praise the Lord! lol.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • Bill in Florida

      This is wholly the result of science. No non-existant deity had anything to do with this.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • rhofwi

      @ Bill, wouldn't bet on that.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
  6. cecilia

    wear it well, Son, you have truly received the gift of life

    March 27, 2012 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. longtooth

    A miracle. No, actually a triumph of medical science and imagination. I wish him well, and blessings to the family that donated the parts. Awesome.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bao

      Science: 1, Religion: 0!

      March 27, 2012 at 15:51 | Report abuse |
  8. Rich

    the NRA should have paid for the surgery...poor kid

    March 27, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.C.

      Why?

      March 27, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
    • idiot!

      Shut up!!! IDIOT!!!

      March 27, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse |
    • vas

      God bless this kid and thank God he's found a means to put back pieces of his life again... but Rich... if this had been the result of a car accident... should the auto industry or their lobbyists have paid for it??? You are focusing on the tool involved in the accident, likely for your own politics or personal beliefs, but dangerous things exist in this world. Get used to it and learn to accept that they are sometimes misused and abused. Prosecution and blame should be focused on the PEOPLE responsible for misuse and abuse – not the physical artifacts that happened to be invovled. The NRA did nothing that led to this. Quite the opposite is true if you had an understanding of their role/charter. I too wish the best for Richard, his family and the donor's family here.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • DIGBY67

      Yeah...like the AKC paid for the 1st transplant...for the woman whose dog nibbled her nose off.
      Just another sensless tragedy that could have been averted with tighter dog control laws.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • Tyler Anthony

      I would also like to know why.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • mona thompson

      thats like getting upset at a place that makes silverware for making someone fat...its the persons fault not the fork that put the fattening food in their mouth. i would like to know how this happened...was it an accident on mr. norris' part or did someone shoot him in the face?

      March 27, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
  9. john

    looks he had bitter beer face (he should've had a keystone light, probably cheaper than a face transplant)

    March 27, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mona thompson

      ummmmm....hey john....your a dick. and its because of people like you that he had to wear a mask for 15 years. i have a pretty sick sense of humor but you gotta draw a line man.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
    • susanr613

      Your comment is so ignorant and rude.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • mike hunt

      I HAVE A SICK SENSE OF HUMOR

      *sees an offensive joke*

      THATS NOT FUNNY

      March 27, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • mona thompson

      mr. hunt...that was funny! wait...thats not your name for real is it?

      March 27, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse |
    • John

      I know I shouldn't find that comment funny but I laughed pretty hard..

      March 27, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse |
  10. Aezel

    Hey look, for once someone who thanked the medical doctors first, who used their scientific knowledge to improve his life, instead of some pretend person in the sky.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • what

      What is the point of calling out people's faith in this amazing story? Do you honestly think by voicing such an opinion, you will sway others to your way of thinking on such a personal matter? Like so many other atheists who post, I find it incredibly naive, almost child like. Believe it or not, your lack of a belief system IS a belief system...so like so many other people you are trying to ridicule, why don't you stuff it?

      March 27, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • fofo

      That's right. I always get angry when people tell me "thank god". God, who? I say.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • mona thompson

      I agree 100% with you aezel and fofo! and as far as you are concerned WHAT... i love when people who do believe in this so called god call people names or as WHAT said...to stuff it (not very christian of you by the way). they can walk around all damn day saying bless this or bless that but when one person says the opposite of what they believe all they can do is basically either curse at them or flip out about how we feel...its what i would expect from a brainwashed idiot like WHAT!!!

      March 27, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • firedude52

      A Troll is born

      March 27, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
    • MS of NY

      In my opinion we have dumbed down the concept of God so much that we believe anything that is sophecticated and advanced is scientific and anything that is philosophical or metaphysical is God. I believe God = Science and Science = God. God is more than just a Guy with flowing white beard or with 10 arms and 10 heads.
      Anyways I wish him a fast recovery and good luck.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:17 | Report abuse |
  11. Catherine

    We keep advancing in the medical arena to perform what would be miracles. I'm glad this guy got his miracle. It's amazing!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JMB

      A miracle ?? I wish people like you would take the time to thank the doctors for spending 36 hours on this man and not give thanks to a magic man that lives in the sky.. Its not a miracle.. its sheer dedication hard work by a group of doctors.. the magic man in the clouds had nothing to do with it..

      March 27, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • JMB

      I forgot to mention. Someone else had to lose their life to give this gift to this man. Lets not forget that.. is it a miracle this other person died ? I think not and I'm sure his parents would rather have him with them even though he help to transform many lives..

      March 27, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
  12. deb

    This is the best use of plastic surgery. God bless those doctors, the donor, his parents and of course, Richard Norris. He now has the chance to have a normal life!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chuck

    "[the donor's] heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were used to save the lives of five other patients, according to the hospital."

    What a wonderful thing.

    People, if you haven't signed up as an organ donor, please do so now.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • susanr613

      Totally agree – in IL we can do this when we renew our driver's license or vehicle registration

      March 27, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
  14. Gracie

    To BREATHE. Breath is a noun, CNN.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • svscnn

      THAT was your takeaway from this article?

      Interesting.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • mona thompson

      hey gracie...who gives a flyin f@*# if its a damn noun...the point here is about this man getting his life back. say your happy for him and move on.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      @ Gracie-My sentiments about the horrible editing..My wife and I are editors and we see more misspellings on CNN than any other media source. Too bad CNN spends more training on how to spin a story than actually write it grammatically correct. In regards to the face transplant, I am all for it, I just hope the donor did not have any untied ends with other people.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:56 | Report abuse |
    • CJ

      Gracie, CNN actually has links at the bottom of the page for contacting them if you catch mistakes in any of their articles. I've used it before and received responses. Use that platform the next time you catch mistakes instead of being a troll. Thanks!

      March 27, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
    • jps

      Gracie can't help it. She is probably a copy editor. It's a disease. I noticed the error too. That doesn't mean we're heartless or weren't affected by the story.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse |
  15. Jilly

    Wow–this is truly amazing and I wish him a happy, long life!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jubril

    Even though the Economy is bad, and we owe more on our homes, reading this story makes one very grateful to the almighty one, At least i still have a face

    March 27, 2012 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Terri

    My heart goes out to him & his family as I know first hand on organ transplants because of my son. You are all in my thoughts for a positive outcome. Here's to a quick, no complications recovery for living life to its fullest!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Hyperion

    Crazy. It looks really good.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Nique_mil

    Good for you, Richard Harris! You look good! Be happy and best of luck to you!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Canada: America's Hat

    God bless the family that consented to this – and to all the other organ donations the family member provided. They have touched many, many lives with this.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dbcouver

      that's what I was thinking . 5 lives saved is also a helluva legacy. Fill out your donor cards.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  21. MrGreen428

    Did they give him Lars von Trier's face?

    March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. JB

    Johm, there is always one sicko with a snide comment, maybe someday there will be brain transplants.

    Wow, great work by the Drs, Many thanks to the donor, they will surely rest in peace.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Not a Scholar

    Bless the donor and the donor's family. One face transplant plus 5 other lives saved by the person. That is the true miracle.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JMB

      Not a scholar.. uhh, this is not a miracle... its hard work and dedication from many docs. How bout paying tribute to them and not a magic man that supposedly lives in the clouds.. sounds kinda foolish doesn't it ??

      March 27, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse |
    • Ruby

      JMB, You seem confused, the article was not about religion at all; it was about the miraculous work of dedicated doctors and a donor who, by their good service, have brought a blessing to humanity.
      Get a grip limp-wit, your proselytizing is as pathetic as that of the Christians. If your religion makes you happy, that is fine, but don’t annoy the rest of us with it.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:44 | Report abuse |
  24. superval

    god bless the donor

    March 27, 2012 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. ann west

    🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴
    Good Luck Sweetie! Stay Strong

    March 27, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Anthony

    Now, just imagine the medical possibilities if stem cell research were allowed.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mona thompson

      im with you on that one anthony... i know its not nice to say but they really need to separate religion from all this medical stuff...they know it works so it shouldnt matter if people think its against god to do it. it works so flippin do it already!

      March 27, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse |
    • JMB

      You nailed it.. If it were not for the foolish god worshiping clowns halting the much needed progress for stem cell research, imagine how far along we'd be by now ?? Sickens me to no end.. Its scary as hell to think an imaginary man supposedly living in the clouds can have such impact on the actual and real.. beyond sad.. especially for all the lives that SHOULD have been saved with the advancement of this much needed research....

      March 27, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
  27. harry

    up until the first face transplant (in France) I never new how much people suffered with facial injuries. Good Work!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. tacomacho

    I'm glad he's the surgery went well and he's happy with it, life will surely be easier for him now – eating, drinking, day-to-day stuff we take for granted – but I find it heartbreaking that he wore a mask for so long, what does that say about us as a society?

    March 27, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joseph

      Sorry not trying to be rude but look at his face! Any animal would be curious of another animal with that drastic of a difference in its looks. Hes a man, he doesnt want to answer questions and be stared at. It says more about us as animals. Yes we could teach ourselves not to look at faces but thats how we identify each other, theres even a specific part of the brain devoted to facial recognition. These primal parts of our brain are just too curious and a strange looking human is raw meat for a curious brain.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
  29. Jeffrey

    You dont realize how lucky you are untill you see something like this. For all those people depressed for varius reasons...try to put it in perspective.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Catherine

    Dr. Rodriquez is not affiliated with the Oral and Maxillofacial surgery department – he in Plastics.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Dave

    This is the first face transplant surgery where I feel the recipient really looks good!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • svscnn

      Yeah, especially so soon after the surgery. I would've expected to still see a lot more swelling and discoloration. Really amazing.

      March 27, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse |
  32. ASH

    This would not be possible without families donating tissue, organs, teeth, etc. from their loved ones that they have lost. My thanks and admiration goes out to them. And to you Richard, you do look great! May you live your life worthy of the man who lost his.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Joseph

    That has to be the most drastic improvement ive ever seen in medicine. Ive seen people in icu recover from sickness and look totally different than during their treatment. But this is......... just wow. Surgeons(s) are studs..

    March 27, 2012 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. DC

    hope this kid recovers well

    March 27, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Sasha P

    He looks amazing! Great Job, Doctors! And, Best wishes to Rich in his new recovery!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Stephanie

    this is incredible – only possible because God works THROUGH the physicians here on earth!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paco

      No, absolutely wrong. Years of medical school, training and experience is what made this happen.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
  37. Todd

    And for all the religious nut jobs out there. DOCTORS, MEDICINE AND SCIENCE made this miracle happen, God didn't have a damn thing to do with it

    March 27, 2012 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • blaqb0x

      No, No Todd. It was the lord that did this. Why he was only "willing" to do this after medical and scientific means were developed is a complete mystery.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
  38. MrDifficult

    That first look in the mirror was the SECOND time he's been blown away. . .

    March 27, 2012 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. JPGard

    This is so very touching. I'm so happy for this guy. This is the wonderful part about being a donor. Being able to extend life to someone else, even though you lose your own. I lost my 40yr old wife last year very suddenly. One of the few things that brought me comfort was when they told me how many donors would benefit from her donation. There's some solace in knowing that some part of her lives on, benefiting someone else.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. MrDifficult

    If god is responsible for this, than god also shot the guy in the face. Dik move, god.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • loudog

      Shut your pie-hole please, you're the one being a dick.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
  41. Wendy M

    I say a big THANK YOU to the family was willing to help this kid with the organ/tissue donation. What an incredible and generous gift to give someone.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robert

      Yes that is a wonderful thing this family did to save lives and change one.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:09 | Report abuse |
  42. Daniel

    Richard, You look amazing! You are an inspiration to all of us. You have many years in front of you and I wish you a very prosperous life.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. CanadaLove

    wow that is great! Hope he recovers well and live a happy life – he deserves it. Great job docs!

    March 27, 2012 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. palintwit

    Teabaggers believe that this type of surgery interferes with the will of baby jesus. They believe that the surgeon and patient alike will burn in hell as a result.

    March 27, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Tim W.

    Just think....in a few 1000 years some archaeologist will dig up todays bodies and just think what they will find.......a age when we replaced body parts with other peoples body parts, we used metals and plastics.....we ate food filled with drugs then took drugs to conteract the problems from the foods. We even replaced human body parts with animal parts.....
    Will they think we all had a bit of Dr. Frankenstein in us ?
    Don't get me wrong, this is a great deal for this guy and the donor's family should be proud.........

    March 27, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • blaqb0x

      Pretty sure they'll be more creeped out when they find genetic human/animal hybrids in the future.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
    • Lean6

      Not understanding your point completely. What they SHOULD find is evidence of the building blocks of the advanced state of medicine that they should by then be enjoying.

      March 27, 2012 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
  46. Happy for him

    Sometimes it's worth the time perusing the internet news. It makes all my BS negativity about myself and others seem
    childish considering what this man had to endure for 15 years plus. IMO he looks even better than his pre gunshot face.
    I'm sooo happy for him. Welcome back to a semblance of a normal life, champ. Technology ain't all that bad.

    March 27, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. blaqb0x

    Awww, Yeaaaah. Bring on the ladies!!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Wade Johnson

    This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen!!! I am so happy for this guy, I can't imagine how hard it was for him before this was done to go out in public. Now after he heals you would never even know he had been shot in the face. Best wishes my friend. May life be all you had hoped for back before your horrific injuries.

    March 27, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Abbi Norml

    Astounding. Results are improving with every surgery performed. The family who allowed their loved one to be immortalized in this way definitely deserves kudos (can't be easy to see his face about) – as does the individual who agreed to be a donor to so many. As always, my curiosity gets the better of me & I can't help wondering: how did the donor die... and how is it that Mr. Norris got his face shot off? Hmmm...

    March 27, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Johan S

    In the future (10 to 25 years from now) immune-suppressant drugs won't be needed because the immune system can be taught to be tolerant of the new tissue. There are multiple approaches to this, and some labs/companies are looking at it. We know for sure its possible but it's unknown how to do a couple of the steps required.

    March 27, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.