Face transplant techniques have come a long way since they were first attempted.
The first face transplant in the world occurred in 2015. A fireman by the name of Patrick Hardison lost his face when his mask melted on the job. His results were greatly successful. Consequently, techniques advanced since the surgery for this man who had a face transplant. They have helped many other people too.
Young Andy Sandness felt he had reached his limit of despair when he attempted suicide
It was only days before Christmas, in 2006, when after drinking, he pointed a gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.
Miraculously he survived somehow, though his face was entirely shattered. One of the policemen who arrived on the scene was a friend. In his arms, the 21-year-old begged him to save his life. He realized he had made a mistake.
Sandness eventually ended up at the Mayo Clinic, where they began the first of what would be an arduous 8 surgeries. After 4.5 months, plastic surgeon, Dr. Samir Mardini had reconstructed his face as best as he could.
Dr. Mardini reconstructed his upper and lower jaw using bone and muscle from Sandness’s hip and leg. His facial bones received titanium plates and screws to reconnect his facial bones. Still, Sandness looked like a shattered man.
He had a small hole for his mouth and required a prosthetic nose. Eating was a challenge, however, he adapted by creating tiny bite sized portions he could slowly swallow. His prosthetic nose would often fall off when he was outdoors.
Sandness took to spending time alone, enjoying his former hobbies and being an outdoorsman. He hunted and fished in the hills, and avoided small children for fear of frightening them. Nevertheless, his family and friends stood by him and reminded him of their love for him.
Resolute, he took jobs. He worked as an electrician’s apprentice, at a lodge, and even in the oil fields. He was grateful to be alive, but still, he bore some shame for his looks.
Meanwhile, the Mayo Clinic had been working tirelessly practicing the rarest surgery in the world.
Dr. Mardini and his team worked with cadavers to perfect facial transplant surgery
And it was in 2012 he got in touch with Sandness to make him a surprising offer. He would become one of only 2 dozen people who would potentially receive a face transplant.
Sandness had been in touch with the Mayo Clinic throughout the years. He had developed a brother-like relationship with Dr. Mardini. He had constantly asked if there was anything more that the clinic could do for him. It was now that Dr. Mardini said that indeed there finally was.
Dr. Mardini decided to add Sandness to his facial transplant waiting list. This was not a simple process. As Sandness had a history of suicide, he required rigorous psychiatric evaluations. It could potentially be risky to invest in this surgery, with someone who might waste it by later killing themselves.
However, it had been many years since Sandness’s suicide attempt. He had proven his resilience despite extremely difficult odds. He had an extremely supportive and loving family. His motivation inspired Dr. Mardini to believe Sandness would be an ideal recipient.
He also had to acknowledge the riskiness of the procedure. Receiving a transplant would require a lifetime regimen of anti-rejection drugs. These drugs also can lead to enduring difficult side-effects. Sandness felt that his life was difficult enough already, that these risks were worth it.
Sandness assumed that he would have to wait up to 5 years
But sadly another man’s suicide tragedy would bring Sandness his miracle within only 5 months. Yet, there were some rather poignant coincidences between him and his donor. It was June 2016.
Young 21-year-old Caden “Rudy” Ross, also an outdoorsman like Sandness, had attempted but succeeded at committing suicide. However, he had put his name on an organ donor list before his death. He left behind a devastated 19-year-old widow, who was almost 9 months pregnant.
His widow, Lilly, received a notification from LifeSource, who arranged organ donations. They explained her husband’s wishes and asked her permission to make the donations. She immediately gave consent to his lungs, liver, heart and kidneys.
When LifeSource suggested that Lilly also donate Ross’s face, she was initially reluctant. It troubled her that she could possibly one day see the recipient and think it was her husband. They reassured her that it would only be the bottom half of his face. Sandness’s eyes and the upper part of his face remained intact, so he would look nothing like Ross.
She consented and Sandness rushed to the Clinic
It took 56 hours to complete the grueling surgery. Surgeons took 24 hours to painstakingly and delicately remove Ross’s jaw, including teeth, mouth and lips, chin and cheeks. Sandness then spent 32 hours in preparation, before having the reconstruction intricately done.
After 3 weeks of meticulous monitoring in recovery, Sandness was finally permitted a mirror to view his face. Still unable to talk, he wrote on a notepad that he procedure had far exceeded his expectations. Dr. Mardini choked back tears of happiness, the procedure appeared to be a complete success.
Sandness now feels full of confidence, and the greatest part is that no-one stares at him. He can go to a sports game and remain anonymous in the crowd. He feels he can really get his life back.
Lilly got in contact with Sandness after her son was born. She let him know how important it was for her child to know the generous gift that his father had given. Sandness responded with the reassurance that Ross lived on through him.
It is truly miraculous the wonders of science and medicine that exist today, that infuses into people’s lives. It shows that despite so much darkness in the world, there is a light of goodness that never goes out. What a miracle for this young man with a full face transplant!
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