'I can start working on my new life'

Seven months after an American who shot himself in the face was operated on, doctors have unveiled their handiwork.

The face transplant, the most extensive ever conducted, was done by an army of 100 doctors. The final surgery, which lasted 36 hours, was performed by the team in March.

Pictures of Mr Richard Lee Norris from Virginia, US, were released earlier last week, The Telegraph reported.

He was injured in a gun accident 15 years ago. He lost his nose, sense of smell and part of his tongue after the shooting, and has since undergone multiple life-saving surgeries.

For all those years, he lived like a recluse in his home in Hillsville, hiding behind a mask. He used to go out only at night.

In March, Mr Norris was given a new face, teeth, tongue and jaw during the transplant, the report said.

Now, he is able to feel his face, shave, brush his teeth and is slowly regaining his sense of smell and speech.

Lead surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, said: "It's a surreal experience to look at him. It's hard not to stare."

According to Dr Rodriguez, Mr Norris does not look like the anonymous donor, whose organs saved five other patients on the same day.

"It's a combination of two individuals, a true blend."

After the surgery, Mr Norris wanted to see his face in a mirror. After he did, Dr Rodriguez said he put the mirror down, thanked and hugged him.

To ensure that Mr Norris would retain maximum function of his facial expressions and movements, doctors gave him a new tongue for proper speech, eating and chewing, normally aligned teeth and connected his nerves to allow him to smile.

Said Mr Norris: "I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look. "My friends have moved on with their lives, starting families and careers. I can now start working on the new life given back to me."

The surgery in March required replacing both jaws, teeth, tongue and skin and underlying nerve and muscle tissues from scalp to neck.

Mr Norris said: "People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement. Now they can stare at me in amazement and in the transformation I have undergone."

He said is now able to smile and show expression.

"I have been undergoing physical therapy and also speech therapy. I have been doing very well regaining my speech.

"Each day it improves a little more."

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