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Richard Norris, saving face: Man's historic face transplant, from gunshot to GQ

In 1997, Richard Norris, a 22-year-old Virginia man, accidentally shot himself in the face. Disfigured and despondent, Norris retreated from everyday life, choosing to become a shut-in, a self-medicating alcoholic living with his parents in the mountains of Virginia, humiliated by his misshapen face and eschewing entrance into his forlorn world. Mirrors were covered in the Norris home, and when Richard did have to venture out, he donned a black mask like a disconsolate superhero.

Today, Richard Norris is a changed man – in every respect of the phrase. In 2012, Norris was selected for a historic face transplant and received a face that was unlike his original features. Norris’ new look is now available for the world to see – he’s gracing the pages of the August issue of GQ magazine, telling his astonishing story and showing off his equally miraculous face.

Writes GQ: "Richard Norris was 22 when he shot himself in the face. This was back in 1997. He doesn’t remember how or why it happened, but his mom, who was three feet away, said it was an accident. She remembers pieces of Richard’s face showering her body. This was in the living room. The gunshot had blown off his nose, cheekbones, lips, tongue, teeth, jaw and chin, leaving just his wide brown eyes and a swirl of nameless twisted flesh."

Norris underwent multiple surgeries in the years following his accident, but his face remained sunken and mangled. He lacked a lower jaw and his features were compressed, making it difficult for him to eat and breathe.

Enter Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a reconstructive surgeon from Baltimore, who in March of 2012 gave Norris a life-changing gift – a new face and renewed hope. Now 39 years old, Norris is taking college classes and even has a girlfriend.

“Those 10 years of hell I lived through, it has given me such a wealth of knowledge,” Norris said. “It's unreal. It has put some of the best people in my life.”

Norris still faces daily changes, explains the Huffington Post, but his biggest challenge – the way he saw himself – is convalescing with each day.

Writes HuffPost:

“While the surgery has dramatically improved the quality of Norris' life, his medical status will never be back to where it was before the accident. Norris takes multiple medications daily to stop his immune system from attacking the new face tissue, which his body is hardwired to reject. Any day, his immune system could begin rejecting the transplant.”

But people no longer stare at him, Norris says, and to rid himself of the ridicule alone is an indescribable triumph.

“There's no one paying attention,” Norris said. “Unless they know me personally, they don't know I am a face transplant patient. That right there is the goal we had.”

The mirrors in Norris’ home are no longer covered, and when he looks in them, although he sees features that never belonged to him, he sees himself.

“When I look in the mirror, I see Richard Norris.”

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