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 (341 Responses)
  1. marto

    There are a lot of sick comments in here, and they must be mostly from repugs.....

    March 27, 2012 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Big George in Big D

      You are an absolute idiot for bringing politics into this story. This man deserves better than your beatly comment.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
    • aw

      Like the one directly above yours, basement-dweller.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Marto - read my note to kleptiko above. The same goes double for you.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:36 | Report abuse |
    • Eric wayne Hudson

      How about lets see one where a Service member who went overseas to fight for his country and got his face blown off, Get a second chance in life God knows If anybody deserves it , It is definately our Troops!!!

      March 28, 2012 at 13:34 | Report abuse |
  2. marto

    ha ha, good one kleptiko...........

    March 27, 2012 at 16:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Troll Blaster

      I see you and kleptiko somewhere, sitting side by side in a public library, alternately popping zits and snickering about all the clever things you are typing on the computer and thinking how much fun it is going to be when you get your own bikes.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:44 | Report abuse |
  3. Tyler

    I'm assuming because no blame was laid that the gunshot wound was self inflicted

    March 27, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • That had to hurt

      I think you can answer that question if you look at the middle picture and follow the entry wound under his chin and the exit wound in his forehead.

      That was some time ago and he gets a second chance. Be happy that there are people in the world that donate organs and doctors skilled enough to make something out of nothing, to give people a chance at something that feels more norma..

      March 27, 2012 at 17:09 | Report abuse |
    • Mason

      That's what I was thinking too

      March 27, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
    • midranger

      What in the name of anything does that have to do with this story?

      March 27, 2012 at 17:18 | Report abuse |
    • ConnieKaye

      If you're hung up on "how" he was disfigured, try to focus on the advancements of medical technology and how the work they did on this man may help a child in the future.

      March 29, 2012 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  4. Jillian

    This is so awesome, im so happy for this man. I wish you all the best in recovery!

    March 27, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Scott

    Absolutely amazing

    March 27, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Lily

    President Santorum??...LOL..you should be the one playing with a unicorn

    March 27, 2012 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Deepdimples

    Mr. Norris looks great. I'm happy for him! Awesome!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 17:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Charlie

    Good luck to Richard in his recovery, both emotionally and physically. God bless to the donor family. You truly are life savers.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Shirley

    The last 10 years have brought a wonderful increase in knowledge along all the sciences and technology. I'm sure it has contributed greatly to the ability of the surgeons to perform this rehabilitation. What joy must fill the hearts of all connected with this man!

    March 27, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Stephanie LLLLL

    Truly amazing. What a wonderful surgery and blessing to this man and his family. When the swelling goes down and likely a follow-up or more surgeries help the functionality of the transplant, he will look so very normal. I'm so happy for him 🙂

    March 27, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Zabent

    To make this more of a feel good story, it has been conveniently left out by most news outlets that his injury was the result of a failed suicide attempt. Very disappointing standard of reporting, even for CNN/Fox.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • pete

      Does that really matter? Does it make him less worthy of getting the physical help he needs to become a functioning member of society? Is there a reason it should matter whether the illness that took his face was mental or medical

      March 27, 2012 at 17:20 | Report abuse |
    • derp

      And you think it's relevant for what reason? That he required a new face after a gunshot wound 15-years ago is the only relevant part. You're a pretty disgusting person, you know that?

      March 27, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
    • Hien Tu

      What business is it of yours or anyone else's? Sure, it makes for a complete story, but does that little detail really make a difference? If it is true that his face was destroyed during a suicide attempt, what does it change about the fact that his recovery–15 years of suffering without a nose, mouth or the ability to breathe normally plus the courage to undergo a painful 36-hour surgery and all the therapy that will follow–is a miracle?
      I'll wager you like to rub salt into wounds just to feel the sting.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:34 | Report abuse |
    • Zabent

      pete, derp, hien, let me say that I am in the same boat in terms of being sympathetic towards the patient. If he had wanted to kill himself BEFORE this, it was a pretty courageous turnaround to live on after shooting off part of his face.

      BUT, I am surprised that no one else is disturbed that a huge detail of the story – how this horrific injury occurred to begin with – was deliberately left out to make for a more hollywood feel-good story. Do the news outlets get to leave in and leave out parts of the story as they wish, to achieve their desired emotional effect? Is this the kind of news you want to read?

      March 27, 2012 at 17:51 | Report abuse |
    • Voice of reason

      Well said Zabent! I too want the whole story and not just what makes a feel good report. CNN needs to give its readers the facts- all of them- and let the readers draw their own opinion.

      March 27, 2012 at 18:32 | Report abuse |
    • Ju

      It doesn't matter in terms of the surgery and good luck to the guy, but it does matter in terms of news reporting – why say it was an accident if this is not true? It would be better to say 'an injury caused by a gun' and leave it at that.

      March 27, 2012 at 18:36 | Report abuse |
    • CB

      Maybe it has ben left out because it is not true.


      March 29, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  12. Joe Six Pack

    Did you notice the brilliant doctor's name was "Rodriguez"? Might make you think twice next time you complain about immigrants..

    March 27, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shootmyownfood

      Wow! Assumptions abound! You are aware that the Spanish Europeans settled North America long before any other countries, right? And that the Spanish settled in the American southwest long before the Revolutionary War? So, the assumption that someone named Rodriguez is a recent immigrant is just false without any other information. Who knows – his family may have been here centuries longer than yours. Quit profiling by surname.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      There's a difference between "illegal immigrants" and "immigrants". The former is a drain on our society, the latter should be applauded. And FYI, Dr. Rodriguez is a native Floridian.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:30 | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Thanks, as always, for your injection of partisan politics into this discussion. Please feel free to spew this garbage at will. BTW, I owe my vision to a Doctor named Patel - an immigrant from India - and I am STILL against ILLEGAL entry into this country.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:39 | Report abuse |
  13. Ron

    If you're arguing about religion or politics in the comment section you are just dumb.


    Grats on the new face 🙂

    March 27, 2012 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mariguano

      great work! im in complete awe to see this nsiedimon of yours n that too so well-etched n honest to the core. Today,i feel proud being an avid n dedicated listener of the songs which are written by someone who has such in-depth knowledge of our literature. you\'ve made me a very proud person today!THANKS for doing this.

      April 9, 2012 at 04:31 | Report abuse |
  14. Mason

    While I think this type of operation is incredible, it's a little strange to me too. I can't imagine having my deceased loved one's face on another person. Just the thought that there is someone walking around with his face is really... bizarre. But the results of the operation are outstanding.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Crystal

      I can absolutely see your point, but if one of my loved passed away, and gave his face to someone.... I think the pride of knowing what he did would trump any weird feelings. I think I would WANT to spend time with Richard. Who else would get to see their loved one's face after they've passed? Not that it would look exactly the same as the donor's.. after all, it's man-made bone structure under there to give the shape. It would be emotional, but I think it would be worth it knowing what that person left for Richard, and how it changed his life! Of course I'm not in that situation, so all I can do is imagine. I'd love to know what the donor's family thinks. I think I'd be bursting with pride for the donor and joy for Richard 🙂

      March 27, 2012 at 18:50 | Report abuse |
  15. Colleen Kelly Mellor

    The face is everyone's most evident extension of ourselves, and when one's is maimed by accident or crime, it is a hellish thing for the individual to endure. This poor man didn't want to and went about for 15 years with a mask on. One could easily imagine the reaction from others: children who don't know any better or luckless adults with little feeling (some are here on these message boards.) The reconstruction doctors perform today is truly miraculous, allowing people severly deformed to rejoin the human family. Hats off to you and your incredible skill. And to the man who's lived a solitary life until now, may your journey be a wonderful one.....

    March 27, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • midranger

      Very well said.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:20 | Report abuse |
    • CarolinaKate

      Ditto on the "Very well said"!

      March 28, 2012 at 21:16 | Report abuse |
  16. Alex

    Good luck man, successful transplant
    you are a handsome man.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ruth

    Richard, you look great 🙂 congratulations, as for the surgeons.........excellent work!

    March 27, 2012 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Squidward

    lol, the center picture looks like a cross between Squidward from SpongeBob and the bitter beer face from those beer commercials.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shootmyownfood

      And if you are really lucky you won't look like that when you're eighty-five years old.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:22 | Report abuse |
  19. Luis Cipher

    I think Zimmerman shot him.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CNN (not really)

      Please come by the office and pick up your prize for the most useless comment of the day.

      March 27, 2012 at 17:40 | Report abuse |
  20. Gypsy

    Awesome! :o)

    March 27, 2012 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Samantha

    It truly is amazing how far the medical research has come. It is awesome that this man can feel somewhat whole again. I can't imagine having to go through what he has gone through.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kris

    Richar, If you are reading this..Know that God will ALWAYS be with you. You look great.. and I hope the rest of your life brings you ten fold of the joys that you missed out on. People like you have no idea how much they are loved by us all.

    Also, the Donor and people like stand to reinforce our belief in humanity. Hope you are beside God enjoying true bliss.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Heather

    Interestingly, the U.K. provides more information than any of the U.S. news stories seem to provide: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2121185/Richard-Lee-Norris-face-transplant-Gun-accident-victim-given-amazing-operation-US-doctors.html.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Abe

    CNN should really just get rid of these comment sections. Reading one for 30 seconds makes me question both god and evolution.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rob

      Guess what... you're one of them... And who the f*** are you to say what CNN should do?

      March 27, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse |
    • Katha

      I like your lyrics and your blog Now days plepoe dont expected such deep thought and good poetry from bollywood filmwalas. But you make hindi song more meaningful and such a melodious words.Thanks,

      April 9, 2012 at 07:03 | Report abuse |
  25. jw

    so when we feel sorry for ourselves for something "small" we can look at this man's trials and perhaps we will have a different perspective on things. life is so "unfair" ...but mysterious.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. mommajam

    He looks fantastic!! It's incredible what can be done surgically these days. Excellent work doctors!! Good luck to you Richard. I hope you have a wonderful life.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jake

    Keep in mind your insurance company pays for this. One guy gets a $500,000 face, and 50 kids don't get luekemia treatment.
    71 year old Dick Cheney gets a $80,000 transplant, 8000 kids don't get annual checkups.

    March 27, 2012 at 17:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Voice of reason

      Stop making assumptions- No insurance company covers this. It is an experimental procedure.

      March 27, 2012 at 18:25 | Report abuse |
    • YEAH!

      don't make assumptions! all those kids do get their anal check-ups from their priest or Jerry Sandusky...get it right

      March 28, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • Wondering

      These surgeries are covered by grants from military funding to hopefully provide treatment for wounded vets.

      March 28, 2012 at 16:05 | Report abuse |
  28. Kathy

    How can anyone denounce science when when we've made such incredible advances in medicine? This is amazing. So happy that this man will finally have his life back. And major props to the donor for giving such an amazing gift. Sign your donor cards people!

    March 27, 2012 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      save a life - be a donor....

      March 29, 2012 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
  29. Jon Doew

    Next thing ya know, it'll be like India around here – where they're taking people's faces in their sleep, like kidneys. Watch out hotties!LOL

    March 27, 2012 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zabent

      so very wrong in so many ways, but i must say i LOLed at this

      March 27, 2012 at 17:53 | Report abuse |
    • Nobuhiko

      That\'s the thinking of a cretiave mind

      April 8, 2012 at 01:50 | Report abuse |
  30. dan

    he needs a hoodie!!

    March 27, 2012 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Cindy

    Gosh, he looks fantastic! I can't imagine how relieved he and his family must feel. Once the eye swelling goes away you can tell he's going to look totally normal and kind of cute even. AMAZING!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 18:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. uwgb

    God bless the brave Mr.Norris and the magnificent family of his donor.The donor's family are also brave miracle workers and honor their lost loved one with this unimaginably generous gift.

    March 27, 2012 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      absolutely. please, please be a donor.

      March 29, 2012 at 20:00 | Report abuse |
  33. eric

    Reminds me of a real life leatherface.

    March 27, 2012 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jesus

    Sorry folks, you knew that God worked in mysterious ways and you've failed my dad for the last time, human race. We'll be recalling you all to heaven, just as Kirk Cameron and that allegedly crazy reverend has described, for your role in interfering with the natural order of things.

    March 28, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. alex

    ***The hospital did not release details about the anonymous donor***

    The donor was dead person.

    March 28, 2012 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Crystal

      Thank you Captain Obvious.

      "His heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were used to save the lives of five other patients"
      That must have been the clue that tipped you off.

      March 28, 2012 at 18:46 | Report abuse |
  36. alex

    wearing someone else's face until the rest of your life is – wrong

    March 28, 2012 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. pointing fingers

    Look at all the Judges out there. I suppose you all have law degrees and feel you have the right to judge???? Hipocrites! All of you.
    No one out there ever made a bad decision. Maybe we should all start praying to all of you high and mightys.
    Richard, what a lesson to have to learn in your life. Embrace it and be grateful. Good luck and God Bless.

    March 29, 2012 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Sidonie

    There are postings here that Richard Norris sustained his injuries in a suicide attempt. That is likely NOT true. I cannot find any sources to verify that and there is article explaining how the injury is an accident. See below. Someone seems to be spreading falsehoods.

    March 29, 2012 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. abbydelabbey

    this man has suffered agony - no need for sarcastic, nasty, or "humorous" comments - Wishing him the best.

    March 29, 2012 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Catherine

    In the great words of Dr. Bergman – You Flinched

    March 29, 2012 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Larry

    I remember when a movie called face off came out and everyone said it was a bs sci fi movie. Now it doesnt seem like so much bs

    March 30, 2012 at 01:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Silberankauf

    Ihre Internetauftritt ist extrem nur zu eintreten, ich werde mit absoluter Geborgenheit nochmals mal lauter beäugen.

    April 6, 2012 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Have any of you seen how he looks now!!!! I seen and he looks ALMOST COMLETELY NORMAL!!!!!!!! O:)

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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.