“Wow. This is the face I grew up with.”
After her brother was killed in a road accident, Rebekah Aversano likely did not expect to see his face again.
Now, in a touching encounter, she has met the man who received her brother’s transplanted face.
Richard Norris lived a cloistered life after a shooting accident in 1997 left him severely disfigured. He lost his nose, teeth, lips, and a portion of his tongue and jaw. He lost his ability to smell. Ridiculed by his community in rural Virginia, Norris struggled for years with addiction and thoughts of suicide. When he left the house, it was usually under the cover of night, his face hidden behind a hat and mask.
"I've heard all kinds of remarks," he said. "A lot of them were really horrible."
In a separate tragedy, Joshua Aversano, aged 21, was run over and killed by a minivan. His family made the difficult but noble decision to donate his face to Norris.
In the most complex face transplant procedure to date- spanning an impressive 36 hours- Norris was offered a new lease on life.
Norris was given only a 50% chance of survival, but, as the lead doctor in the operation, Dr, Eduardo Rodriguez, explains, “if you talk to these patients, they will tell you it is worth the risk.”
Two years after the operation, Joshua’s family were able to meet the recipient for their generosity for the first time.
His mother, Gwen, stated that
“We can definitely see our son in him. Some of the facial features would definitely be our son, so we could see similarities, very much so. We are just so pleased we have been able to help him. Even though we had such a tragic loss, we were able to give someone else the benefit of our son.”
Though Norris must take a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs for the remainder of his life, the benefits outweigh the cost: he has restored sensation in his face. He can smile again, and is gradually regaining his speech.
Best of all, he feels comfortable living a public life once more.
“I can now start working on the new life given back to me.”