A 37-year-old man who got a new lease of life thanks to a face transplant in 2012 has come face to face for the first time with the woman who made it all possible.
Rebekah Aversano lost her 21-year-old brother Joshua in an accident and the family chose to donate his face for transplant. The man who benefited from this benevolent act was Richard Norris, who was involved in a freak gun accident in 1997 when he accidentally shot himself in the face. The incident left Norris without any nose, jaws, lips, teeth and only part of his tongue. Norris required a trachea tube to breathe.
He would put on a mask as he stepped out of his Virginia home to avoid awkward glances.
However, in March 2012, Norris received a face transplant. The face was that of Joshua, which the Aversano family had donated.
The 36-hour long surgery was performed by a massive team of specialists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which included 155 nurses. The doctors replaces both the jaws and the tongue. They also had to replace his skin, put in an entire set of teeth and replace the nerve and muscle tissues in his face. Basically, Norris' entire face needed replacement barring his eyes and the back of his throat.
"For the past 15 years I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when less people were around," said Norris post the life-changing surgery in 2012. "I can now go out and not get the stares and have to hear comments that people would make. People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement. Now they can stare at me in amazement and in the transformation I have taken. I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look."
Cut to 2015. Three years after the surgery, Norris and Rebekkah have come face-to face for the first time.
The heartwarming encounter has been captured for the TV show "60 Minutes Australia." An overwhelmed Rebekah can be spotted asking Norris if she could touch his face in the show's teaser.
"No, not at all," replies Norris.
Rebekah then touches his forehead gently with her right hand and says "Wow." Clearly overcome by the resemblance, she pauses for a bit before saying that "this is the face I grew up with."
The program will be aired on Sunday, May 31.