By SIMON TOMLINSON and RACHEL QUIGLEY
A 37-year-old man injured in a 1997 gun accident has been given a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw in what doctors say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.
Officials at the University of Maryland Medical Center announced today that Richard Lee Norris is recovering well after last week's 36-hour surgery.He is beginning to feel his face and already brushing his teeth and shaving. He's also regained his sense of smell, which he had lost after the accident.
For 15 years, Mr Norris lived as a recluse, hiding behind a mask and only coming out at night time. The transplant will give him his life back, said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead surgeon.
'It's a surreal experience to look at him. It's hard not to stare.
'Before, people used to stare at Richard because he wore a mask and they wanted to see the deformity,' Rodriguez said.
Transformation : Scans show the original injuries to Norris's face (left), with the damaged areas removed and after the transplant (right)
'Now, they have another reason to stare at him, and it's really amazing.'
The surgeons are calling it the world's most comprehensive face transplant which allowed the Virginia man to emerge from behind his mask after 15 years.
When he shot himself in the face in 1997 he lost his nose, lips and most movement in his mouth. He has had multiple life-saving, reconstructive surgeries but none as successful as this.
He received the new face from an anonymous donor last week whose organs saved five other patients' lives on the same day.
'Surreal experience': Lead surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez explains how the procedure successfully replaced the 38-year-old's face, teeth, tongue and jaw
Six days after the surgery, he can already move his tongue and open and close his eyes and is recovering much faster than doctors expected.
'He's actually looking in the mirror shaving and brushing his teeth, which we never even expected,' said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and head of the transplant team, who spoke at a press conference.
When Norris opened his eyes on the third day after the surgery with his family around him, he wanted to see a mirror.
'Amazing': The operation by Dr Rodriguez and his team took 36 hours and is believed to be the most extensive procedure of its kind ever performed
'He put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me,' said Dr Rodriguez.
Mr Norris's face transplant seems to be the most aesthetically successful to date, according to photographs and video shared with reporters at a press conference. He is still recovering in the hospital and did not appear at the media event.
'We concealed all the lines so it would give him the most immediate best appearance with minimal touch-ups down the road.'
The University of Maryland's research on transplants was funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, and doctors said they hope to begin operating soon on military patients.
Officials provided little detail on Norris or the circumstances of the accident.
'This accidental injury just destroyed everything. The rest of his friends and colleagues went on to start getting married, having children, owning homes,' Dr Rodriguez said.
'He wants to make up for all of that.'