WARNING — GRAPHIC CONTENT: A man who underwent a grueling face transplant has revealed his incredible transformation less than 11 months after major reconstructive surgery.
Cameron Underwood was left without the majority of his lower jaw, teeth, and nose, and with significantly impaired eyesight, speech, and mouth function after he attempted to take his own life in June 2016. Underwood, who had been suffering from depression, shot himself in the face. The 26-year-old’s remarkable road to recovery started when his mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, read about the face transplants being performed at NYU Langone by plastic surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez, MD, DDS.
“When we read about what Dr. Rodriguez had done for his other patients, we knew he was the only person to whom we would trust Cameron’s life,” Bailey-Potter told local reporters. “We were willing to travel the long distance.”
After Rodriguez performed a series of physical and psychological evaluations to ensure that the Californian was a suitable fit for the operation, they put him on the waiting list.
He would only have to wait six months, one of the shortest wait times for a face transplant in history, after Rodriguez learned of a potential match following the sudden death of aspiring actor William Fisher. Not only did the 23-year-old Manhattan resident give Underwood his face, but he also donated his heart, kidneys, liver, eyes and other tissues to those who needed them.
With everything in place, the NYU medical team commenced the demanding 25-hour surgery, removing large portions of Fisher’s skull and face, and then, with the help of a 3D-printed mask of the donor’s face and 3D computer surgical planning, using them to reconstruct Underwood’s jaw, teeth, gums, mouth, lower eyelids, cheeks, nose and nasal passages.
Two years later, the results have changed the lives not only of Underwood and his family, but also of Fisher’s heartbroken mother, Sally Fisher.
“Two years ago, I don’t think we had any idea about face transplants, that it was even possible,” Underwood told Time magazine. “I absolutely feel like myself [now]. Every time I look in the mirror, I see me. I see my eyes and my face. It’s all growing on me, so to speak.” After honoring her son’s wishes, Fisher asked to meet the person whom her son had saved.
“Being a part of this experience has been a source of strength for me during a very difficult time,” she said in a statement. “I don’t think I would have survived Will’s death if not for Cameron. Cameron has his whole life ahead of him — and I love the idea that Willie is helping him have a better life.”
Underwood’s successful transplant follows on the heels of a similar procedure on 21-year-old Katie Stubblefield, the youngest person in the U.S. to undergo the surgery.
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