10/17/2012 03:33 pm ET Updated Oct 18, 2012

Richard Lee Norris, Face Transplant Patient, No Longer 'Living As A Recluse' After Surgery (PHOTOS)

Seven months after receiving the most comprehensive face transplant in history, 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris is now able to come out of the shadows.

"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," Norris said, according to a news release from the University of Maryland Medical Center, where the procedure was performed in March. "I can now go out and not get the stares and have to hear comments that people would make."

See PHOTOS of Norris before and after the surgery, story continues below:

Face Transplant Patient

Norris was injured in a gun accident in 1997, according to NBC Washington. He lost much of his upper and lower jaws as well as his lips and nose.

The 36-hour surgery required replacing both jaws, teeth, tongue, and skin and underlying nerve and muscle tissue from scalp to neck, the release said.

"People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement," Norris said. "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."

Norris is now able to smile and show expression. The motor function on the right side of his face is about 80 percent of normal and motor function on the left side is about 40 percent, according to his doctors. He can smell, taste and eat.

"I have been undergoing physical therapy and also speech therapy," Norris said. "I have been doing very well regaining my speech back. Each day it improves a little more."