Woman meets man with her brother's transplanted face

The progress of Mr Richard Norris' face transplant.
The progress of Mr Richard Norris' face transplant.

UNITED STATES - A man who received the world's first face transplant and the donor's sister have met face to face for the first time.

In their meeting, captured on video by news programme 60 Minutes Australia, Ms Rebekah Aversano touches the face of Mr Richard Norris, steps back and says in wonder, "This is the face I grew up with."

Her brother, Joshua, was just 21 when he was killed in a traffic accident in 2012.

His grieving family made the difficult decision to donate his face to a disfigured Virginia man.

Mr Norris had accidentally shot himself in the face with a shotgun in 1997. No amount of conventional surgery had helped his disfigurement.

In March 2012, in a 36-hour procedure involving 150 doctors and nurses at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, Mr Norris underwent one of the most extensive face transplants ever attempted.

According to news.com.au, he not only received Mr Aversano's face but also two to three inches of his hairline, forehead, eyebrows, nose, cheekbones, jaw, lips, teeth and tongue.

In a statement released by the medical centre in October 2012, he said: "For the past 15 years I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when fewer people were around.

"I can now go out and not get the stares and have to hear comments that people would make. People used to stare at me because of my disfigurement. Now they can stare at me in amazement and in the transformation I have taken. I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look."

Doctors told BBC news it was rare for recipients to meet the families of donors.

Mr Barry Jones, former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: "It must be rather difficult for any relative to meet a recipient but it must be particularly difficult for faces.

"On this occasion it seems to have been a happy outcome. But that might not always be the case."

Indeed, the Aversano family seem to take comfort in knowing how much they have helped another individual.

In an interview with Canada's CTV news, Mr Aversano's mother, Ms Gwen Aversano, said: "Knowing our son he would have wanted someone else to go on with their lives if he wasn't able to.

"After meeting Mr Norris, seeing him and speaking to him we can definitely see our son in him.

"We were just so pleased we were able to help Mr Norris even though we had such a tragic loss."

Mr Norris will have to take drugs for the rest of his life to suppress his immune system so that his body does not reject the foreign cells. He cannot drink, smoke or get sunburned.

But he has feeling in his face, a sense of smell and taste, and love in his life, according to 60 Minutes reporter Allison Langdon. The programme is slated to be aired in Australia on Sunday.