A face transplant is not typically the subject that GQ magazine tackles on a regular basis. However, its latest American issue features a photo shoot with a man who has been the recipient of a life-changing face transplant.
According to The Telegraph, Richard Norris was a troubled young adult on a fateful night in 1997. Norris arrived home drunk and argued with his mother, and then in a desperate moment pointed a shotgun at his own face and threatened to shoot himself. The gun accidentally went off, and Richard’s face was literally torn apart. Norris lost his nose, teeth, jaw, and most of his tongue.
In an interview with GQ, Richard’s mother explained, “Richard’s face exploded.”
Norris spent much of his time hiding in Hillsville, Virginia, and underwent several operations to put his face back together. Each surgery could not repair the overall damage done to his face.
Richard finally decided that he needed to go through with a face transplant in 2012. It was the most extensive face transplant ever performed, lasting 36 hours and involving 150 doctors and nurses at the University of Maryland Medical Center, according to The Telegraph.
The new face Richard Norris received was from a 21-year-old named Joshua Aversano. The donor died after he was hit by a van while crossing a road. Doctors took tissue from the neck to the scalp, upper and lower jaw, teeth, and some of the tongue from the Aversano to tranplant onto Norris.
Richard is continuing to recover two years after the face transplant and will have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life. His body could still reject his face at any time. Richard’s mother stated that he already had two scares when his body began to reject parts of his face.
“Every day I wake up with that fear: Is this the day? The day I’m going to go into a state of rejection that is going to be so bad that the doctors can’t change it?” Norris admitted.
Richard is still in contact with his donor’s family and is aware of what the face transplant has done for him, but he still struggles with the responsibility of having someone else’s face. GQ reports that Richard still drinks and smokes, against the advice of his doctors.
Overall, Norris is happy with the outcome of his face transplant and relieved that no one stares at his disfigured face.
“Now there’s no one paying attention [to my face]. Unless they know me personally, they don’t know I am a face transplant patient. That right there is the goal we had.”