Doctors Perform Most Extensive Face Transplant in History


face-transplantDoctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the most extensive full face transplant to date, replacing everything from the hairline to the collar bone of a 37-year-old man, including the upper and lower jaw bones, teeth, and a portion of the tongue. The operation took place over 36 hours on March 19 and 20 and involved more than 200 medical professionals.

The face transplant was part of a 72-hour marathon of organ donation at the center, in which five patients received organs from one anonymous donor.

The effort is being hailed as remarkable for the generosity of the donor and the scope of the operation, as well as scientific advancements that enabled the transplant.

A week after the surgery, the recipient of the face, Richard Norris, of Hillsville, Virginia, is moving his jaws, opening and closing his eyes, brushing his teeth and shaving, doctors said in a press conference Tuesday.

Norris suffered a gun accident in 1997 that left him with just a skull, eyes and part of his jaw. Doctors said he has been living in near seclusion since the accident, wearing a mask when he went out in public. Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the surgeon leading the operation, said he had performed 12 different surgeries on Norris since 2005, but was never able to restore his face.

With the transplant, “we were able to restore those 15 years that he’s lost and make him a functioning member of society once again,” Rodriguez said.

The face transplant was part of a 72-hour operation at the hospital when four other patients received organs donated from the same anonymous donor – a heart, lung, liver and kidney.

The process began at 9:30 pm on Saturday, March 17, when the donor was identified and doctors began to evaluate characteristics for a match-like skin tone and overall health. At 4 a.m. on Monday, the team began a 12-hour effort to remove the face from the donor. Doctors then connected the bones, muscles, tongue, nerves and blood vessels to Norris, using computers to guide them. The surgery was complete at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

The surgery was the 23rd face transplant since doctors began doing the procedure in 2005.

Dr. Stephen Bartlett, chair of the department of surgery at the University of Maryland, said the operation was the culmination of 10 years of research funded by the Office of Naval Research, which hopes to put the knowledge to use for soldiers injured in combat.

Bartlett said his research team discovered that using the whole jaw bone made it easier for the body to handle the transplant.

“We believe that scientific finding will allow Mr. Norris to have much more long term chance of success with much lower levels of immunosuppression,” Bartlett said.

Rodriguez said Norris has been able to see his new face already.

Three days after surgery, “he wanted to see a mirror,” Rodriguez said. After seeing his new face, “he put the mirror down and thanked me and hugged me.”

{ABC News/ Newscenter}


  1. A family member works at this facility, was told last week that this had been done. Per hospital protocol, was told to direct all inquiries to a certain department at the hospital. Family member was at press conference yesterday and was absolutely amazed at what has been done for this man. The article does not do justice to the complexity of the procedure or the quality of the medical care at this facility. Researchers have found that the jawbone has stem cells which regenerate so that the body does not reject the face, requiring less and less immunosupression drugs over time. The niflaos haborei and the chesed that Hashem has done with us,to give man the ability to work in partnership with the Borei Olam to help people afflicted with all kinds of medical problems. Truly remarkable!

  2. This is great for the real needy. However, America’s most wanted men can have face transplants and avoid detection. That is the scary part. With all good there is evil.

  3. Incredible what doctors can do these days. Prayers for Richard Norris. The best result would have been for the gun accident to not happen in the first place. Unfortunately the world is not perfect. This is where the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam kicks in.

  4. Is he now the spitting image of the guy who he got the face from? That’s gotta be weird for the deceased’s family members…

  5. Niflaos haborei! Baruch hashem we live in a time and place where hashem has given our doctors and scientists the chochma to perform such nissim.

  6. #5
    not that much. The underlying bones change the shape of the face (they are however not very different, this is part of choosing a match).

    it’s much easier to suffer in prison, than to go through a face transplant. This is not some “easy” cosmetic surgery.

    We should express gratitude to the donor and his family for donating organs and even more so for agreeing to donate the face (as the deceased is disfigured). Kol ha kavod.

  7. “However, America¬ís most wanted men can have face transplants and avoid detection. That is the scary part. With all good there is evil.”

    I’m fairly certain that this would require a life of anti-rejection medication, not a very practical solution to avoid detection.