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Richard Lee Norris, Injured In Gun Accident, Gets Face Transplant

Posted: 03/27/2012 12:26 pm Updated: 03/28/2012 4:54 pm

Richard Lee Norris
In this provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center, Richard Lee Norris is pictured after the face transplant.

By Sarah Brumsfield, Associated Press

BALTIMORE — A 37-year-old Virginia man injured in a 1997 gun accident has received what University of Maryland physicians say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed.

University of Maryland Medical Center officials announced Tuesday that Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville is recovering well after last week's surgery and is already brushing his teeth and shaving. The 36-hour procedure, which included teeth, tongue and upper and lower jaw, has given Norris his life back, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez said.

It was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure seven years ago. Rodriguez says this one is the most extensive because of the inclusion of the tongue and teeth and because the incisions are farther back and less visible.

The first full face transplant was done in France in 2005 on a woman who was mauled by her dog. The Cleveland Clinic performed the first face transplant in the United States in 2008.

Check out these other organ transplant breakthroughs:
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  • Double-Leg Transplant

    <strong>When and Where:</strong> July 2011, Spain A young man in his 20s underwent a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/double-leg-transplant-first_n_896442.html" target="_hplink">10-hour surgery in Valencia</a> just last Sunday to give him a new set of legs. Doctors hope that the patient will be able to walk with the help of crutches within about a year -- depending on how his nerves regenerate. A double-leg transplant had never been attempted before, in large part because in most cases of leg amputation, highly effective prosthetic legs can be used instead. The effectiveness of this surgery remains to be seen, but Dr. Pedro Cavadas, the doctor who performed the surgery, is hopeful. Dr. Cavadas <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/12/double-leg-transplant-first_n_896442.html" target="_hplink">also performed the first face and double-hand transplants</a> done in Spain. Photo Credit: Getty

  • Artificial Windpipe

    <strong>When and Where:</strong> July 2011, Sweden Not only did this surgery mark the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/artificial-windpipe-transplant_n_892350.html" target="_hplink">first time an artificial windpipe was transplanted</a>, but it also marked the first time any synthetic organ had been transplanted. The windpipe was created in a lab in England and then coated in the patient's stem cells before the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/07/artificial-windpipe-transplant_n_892350.html" target="_hplink">12-hour surgery began</a>. These cells mean that he does not have to fear organ rejection, as most transplant patients do and is not on any sort of immunosuppressive drugs.

  • Full-Face Transplant

    <strong>When and Where: </strong>March 2010, Spain Also performed in Spain, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/oscar-first-full-face-tra_n_659196.html" target="_hplink">world's first full-face transplant</a> occurred just last year (the first partial-face transplant happened in 2005). The patient was a 31-year-old farmer who had accidentally shot himself in the face a few years prior. He is still undergoing physical therapy, although much of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/oscar-first-full-face-tra_n_659196.html" target="_hplink">sensation in his face has returned</a> and his muscles have developed. Only a week after the transplant, he began to grow a beard. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/09/face-transplant-press-conference_n_859391.html?" target="_hplink">first full-face transplant in the United States</a> occurred this past May.

  • U.S. Double-Hand Transplant

    <strong>When and Where:</strong> May 2009, Pittsburgh Although it was the ninth double-hand transplant in the world, the nine-hour surgery marked the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/06/double-hand-transplant-ge_n_198538.html" target="_hplink">first time that this procedure had been done in the United States</a>. Georgia native Jeff Kepner, 58, had lost his hands 10 years earlier to a bacterial infection. Although the surgery was an initial success, Kepner is <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/08/26/double.hand.transplant/index.html" target="_hplink">still undergoing intensive physical therapy</a> and has not regained full control over his new apendages. Photo Credit: Getty

  • Technological Innovation

    More and more, technological innovation is the driving force behind saving lives through transplantation. At recent TED conferences, two lectures were given that clearly demonstrated the exciting progress that is on the horizon. At TEDMED 2010, thoracic surgeon, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, M.D., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/31/tedmed-2010-superorgans_n_811894.html" target="_hplink">showed the audience a machine that allows an organ to survive</a> for an extended period of time outside of the body at a normal temperature. This allows an organ to be examined and treated before it is put into the recipient's body. Keshavejee demonstrated the machine's efficacy by allowing audience members to come up at touch a live pig's lung that had been recovered earlier that day. At a TED conference this past March, <a href="http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-surgeon-kidney-ted-stage.html" target="_hplink">Dr. Anthony Atala used a bioprinting machine</a> to print out the mold of a human kidney. As this technology is developed further, scientists hope that it could eventually (most likely not for years) lead to the ability to print out fully-functional, artificial organs.

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