A Virginia man who received a full-face transplant seven months ago eats primarily by mouth, and can taste and smell, the University of Maryland Medical Center announced Tuesday.
Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Va., received the transplant during a 36-hour procedure in March, which medical staff said was the most comprehensive yet. The doctor in charge of the surgery said the team had wanted to restore Norris' face "in the most aesthetic manner possible."
The transplant included the replacement of teeth, tongue, skin and both jaws, as well as underlying nerve and muscle tissue from scalp to neck.
"For the past 15 years I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when less people were around," Norris said in a release from the university.
He had been injured in a gun accident in 1997.
"I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look," he said in the release. "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."
Norris now spends his time fishing and golfing. He was quoted as saying he is regaining his speech, and can smile and show expression. He still attends physical therapy and speech therapy.
His doctors say the motor function on the right side of Norris' face is about 80 percent normal, with the left side at about 40 percent.
The transplant was led by Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Shock Trauma.
"Richard is exceeding my expectations this soon after his surgery, and he deserves great deal of credit for the countless hours spent practicing his speech and strengthening his new facial muscles," Rodriguez said. "He's one of the most courageous and committed individuals I know."
The University of Maryland says it it making efforts to expand its facial transplant program to help more patients, including service members wounded in action.