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October 18th, 2012
07:56 AM ET

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez on amazing face transplant

 For years, one young man never left his house without wearing a mask to avoid stares and comments on his face. Richard Lee Norris had suffered extensive damage to his face from a devastating gun shot. In seven months and a marathon surgery, one doctor led a transplant team to repair his jaw, teeth and tongue, and gave Norris a new look. The reconstructive procedure took 10 years of research at the University of Maryland Medical Center and funds from the Office of Naval Research in the Department of Defense. The doctor responsible shares the story on “Early Start” this morning. Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez is the Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Dr. Rodriguez says he and and his team had rehearsed a practice run with an elite group of surgeons before performing the complex surgery on Norris. “So by the time Richard’s operation came about, we were ready to really succeed at every level,” he says. “And everything went as planned without a hitch. And for that note, Richard is doing great,” with only a minor episode one month after the operation that has since smoothed out.

Dr. Rodriguez says Richard is a superb and committed patient who is now undergoing speech and physical therapy. “He is the real hero of the story,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “When you get a new tongue and you get new jaws and you haven’t had teeth in 15 years, you put all that together, you have to get used to working with that.” Dr. Rodriguez says Norris is working on that “all that is progressing wonderfully.” Dr. Rodriguez says Richard’s speech “every day is getting crisper and sharper.” “He’s learning to smile symmetrically, so his face is really beginning to animate.”