For Richard Lee Norris every moment of life is precious and every moment is a chance to move forward with the blessing called life. One of the survivors of most horrific gun accident in history, Richard has not felt or touched his face in years. He has undergone dozen surgeries after his accident in 1997 which left his face disfigured.
‘We as doctors do the operation, but the rest is up to you as the patient,’ said Eduardo Rodriguez, a dentist and surgeon at UMMC. ‘You have to carry the ball”
There is a looming question! Even with immuno-suppressing drugs, doctors say they have no idea how long the transplant will last. There is an expectation that they will have to repair or replace the transplant eventually.He expects it to last at least a decade.
My friends have moved on with their lives, starting families and careers,’ he said. ‘I can now start working on the life given back to me.’ For Richard Lee Norris every moment of life is precious and every moment is a chance to move forward with the blessing called life.
He spent last 15 years as a recluse and shopped only at night to avoid stares of people. Now after a life altering face transplant performed by 150 doctors and nurses and seven months of potent medications and extensive grit and determination, he looks ahead in the future with a will to live and lead a normal life.
The surgery was pretty extensive. Everything from the scalp to the mid-line of my neck was replaced, including the jaw bones, teeth, part of my tongue, muscles, and nerves’ said Norris
Apparently Mr Norris ran with the ball as this condition ameliorated pretty well after the surgery. Norris was taken off his postoperative ventilator, and within the first week he was able to shave his face and brush his teeth.
Norris spent the first two months following the surgery in the hospital. Doctors wanted to reduce inflammation and impede the risk of rejection through high doses of immuno-suppressing drugs.
After getting discharged Norris was instructed to remain in the Baltimore area to regularly meet with his transplant team as well as a psychologist, a social worker, and speech and physical therapists multiple times each week.
In his hometown Hillsville, in southwest Virginia Norris does his speech therapy regularly and meets with his local physician. He returns to Baltimore once or twice a month for checkups with Rodriguez and other doctors.
‘I have been doing very well regaining my speech back,’ Norris said. ‘Each day it improves a little more.’
When people hear ”rejection,” they think, ”Oh, my God, the face is going to melt off,”’ Rodriguez said. ‘That’s not the case at all. The skin got a little bit swollen and there was a little bit of redness. On a scale. Of 1 to 10,” with 10 being the worst-case scenario, “this was a Grade 1 rejection. Norris continues to run the risk of rejection and he will have to take medications for the rest of his life.
How is Norris dealing with having a new face: Rodriguez feel that such patients develop a facial identity crisis. Before the transplant, Norris rarely left his home. In addition to wearing a surgical mask and baseball cap on his infrequent trips out in public, he did his shopping at night so he wouldn’t have to face the stares of as many people.
‘I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look,’ he wrote.
There are challenges along the way! There is a challenge to teaching Norris, who has not eaten or spoken properly for 15 years, to use his fully functional face.
Meanwhile Norris wants to experience the simple joys of life and wants to make the best of the opportunity to live life which has been given to him. Watch the video here: