Life-Transforming Face Transplant At Mayo Clinic Gives Wyoming Man A Second Chance At Life

When life gives you a second chance, the best choice (if not the only choice most of the time) is to take it. For a man from Wyoming, he was a given a second chance - and more.

Andrew Sandness was 21 and battling depression in 2006 when he attempted to take his life. He shot himself in the face. He didn't die and he knew right there and there that he made a mistake and will regret it the rest of his life.

"I was stupid. I made the wrong choice and I'm paying for it for the rest of my life," said Sandness.

After the suicide attempt, he was left with only two teeth, his entire jaw was gone, and he had no nose.

Life Without A Face

Following the incident, Sandness had several surgeries to reconstruct his jaw and repair facial muscles and skin. He went home to Wyoming and worked as an electrician and in the oil fields.

He had an artificial nose but constantly it would fall. He always brought glue with him so he could put it back and so kids who saw him would not be so scared.

His mouth was so small that he could not eat properly. It was better than the feeding tubes he used during the initial phase of recovery, but the best he could do was tear his food into small bits, put it in his mouth, and wait so it would be soft enough to swallow.

Living without a face, Sandness opted to cover the mirror most of the time.

Mayo Clinic Face Transplant

In 2012, Sandness got a call from facial reconstruction specialist Dr. Samir Mardini. The doctor informed him that Mayo Clinic is launching a facial transplantation program and that doctors might be able to help him.

"When you look like I looked and you function like I functioned, every little bit of hope that you have, you just jump on it, and this was the surgery that was going to take me back to normal," said Sandness.

He was added to the waiting list of patients needing a face transplant.

He was ready to wait for years but in June 2016, Sandness had a donor. The face will be from Calen Ross, a man who shot himself and did not survive.

Ross' widow agreed that her late husband's face may be be harvested for the procedure. She did that so she could tell her son that Calen did something to help somebody.

Mardini and his team prepared for the surgery using virtual and 3D modeling. The new technology helped the medical team at Mayo Clinic anticipate all possible issues they might encounter during the very complicated surgery.

The surgery lasted for 56 hours. Mardini's team of 60 medical professionals took about 24 hours to prepare the donor's face and procure the nerves, bone, muscles, and skin. The other 32 hours were spent reconstructing Sandness' face, practically every structure below his eyes.

"So when we took the donor's face with all the complex bones of the jaw, and put it on the recipient, it fit perfectly," said Mardini.

After the surgery, Sandness could not speak but wrote a note while in front of family and doctors.

"This far exceeds my expectations," Sandness said."I'm just looking forward to getting out in the world and doing the things I missed out on. I missed out on a lot over the last 10 years," he added.

Below are videos posted by Mayo Clinic on its YouTube channel about the medical journey and miracle surgery:

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