Last updated at 16:41 BST, Thursday, 29 March 2012

New face, new future

Summary

29 March 2012

A thirty-seven year old American man injured in a 1997 gun incident has successfully undergone what doctors say is the most extensive face transplant ever performed. The operation took place at the University of Maryland and the lead surgeon says the patient will now get his life back.

Reporter

Laura Trevelyan

Richard Norris: before transplant (L) and after transplant (R)

Richard Norris before (L) and after (R) the face transplant

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Report

Richard Lee Norris has spent the last fifteen years living as a recluse, wearing a mask to hide the severe injuries he received from a gun accident. Now surgeons at the University of Maryland medical centre have given Mr Norris a new face - his teeth, tongue and jaw are also new.

The thirty-six-hour operation was, say the doctors who performed it, the most extensive face transplant ever. The first such operation was performed in France in 2005, on a woman who was mauled by her dog.

The University of Maryland's transplant research has been funded by the US navy. Surgeons hope they can soon begin operating on military patients wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US government estimates that 200 wounded troops might be eligible for face transplants.

Richard Lee Norris is, say his doctors, recovering well after the surgery. He's brushing his teeth and shaving, and has regained his sense of smell.

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Vocabulary

recluse

person who lives alone and avoids other people

injuries

physical harm or damage

surgeons

doctors who do medical operations

jaw

lower part of his face

performed

did, carried out

transplant

operation where parts of the body (e.g. organs or skin) are moved from one person's body to another

mauled by

injured by the teeth or claws of

wounded

physically hurt

be eligible

have the right characteristics to obtain

regained

got back