Face transplant patient meets donor's sis in touching scene  

Face transplant patient meets donor's sis in touching scene  
Ms Rebekah Aversano (left) asked Mr Richard Norris if she could touch his face. Her brother Joshua (above) was killed by a minivan three years ago while crossing the street. Mr Norris(from top right) before and after the shotgun accident, and after the groundbreaking transplant.

London - Ms Rebekah Aversano has for the first time met the man who received the face of her dead brother following a groundbreaking transplant.

The recipient, Mr Richard Norris, from Virginia in the United States, was severely injured in a shotgun accident 18 years ago.

Ms Aversano, from Maryland, saw - and touched - the transplanted face, and the encounter was captured by 60 Minutes Australia which will broadcast it today, the Guardian reported.

"Do you mind if I touch it?" she asked Mr Norris.

"No, not at all," he said.

"Wow, this is the face I grew up with," she said after touching the face.

Mr Norris, who is now 39, thanked Ms Aversano and her family for "saving my life", in the meeting at his home in Virginia.

Prior to the pioneering operation procedure, he had lived as a recluse.

Three years ago, Ms Aversano lost her 21-year-old brother Joshua when he was killed by a minivan while crossing the street.

Her family was shocked when they were first approached by doctors about the possibility of using Joshua's face for a transplant.

Their mother Gwen Aversano told Canada's CTV News in an interview that the decision to donate her son's face to Mr Norris had been difficult, but it would have been what Joshua wanted. "Knowing our son, he would have wanted someone else to go on with their lives if he wasn't able to," she said.

After meeting Mr Norris, seeing him and speaking to him, she said: "We can definitely see our son in him."

"We were just so pleased we were able to help Mr Norris even though we had such a tragic loss," she added.

Mr Norris had previously undergone dozens of conventional operations to try to repair his face from the shooting accident in 1997.

He had lost his lips and nose in the accidentally self-inflicted shotgun blast, and had limited movement of his mouth, BBC said.

Those operations had limited success and had left him depressed and suicidal.

Mr Norris said that before the transplant, he had lived through hell, going out only at night and wearing a hat and mask to try to conceal the injuries, the Guardian reported.

He chose to undergo the transplant even though doctors gave him only a 50 per cent chance of survival.

In March 2012, a team at the University of Maryland medical centre took 36 hours to transplant teeth, a jaw, tongue muscles and nerves.

His body will always regard the new face as a foreign object, prompting attacks by his immune system, said Dr Eduardo Rodriguez who performed the operation.

Mr Norris cannot drink, smoke or get sunburnt and must take a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, the Guardian reported.

Transplant recipients usually do not get to meet the families of their donors.

This article was first published on May 31, 2015.
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