NEW YORK - A single gunshot kicked off a long road to recovery for one man that he never could have imagined. Cameron Underwood is quite literally a new person today, the recipient of one of the only few dozen face transplants ever performed.
"Now we're ready for life to start over, I guess," Underwood told WCBS. It was just a year and a half ago that the 26-year-old suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He survived, but with a devastating facial deformity that included the loss of much of his jaw, nose, and all but one tooth. Facial reconstruction was not an option.
Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez led the facial transplant team and said, "Cameron is the third face transplant that I've performed. And when I look at his result, it has far exceeded all of my expectations."
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Much of the presurgical planning was guided by state-of-the-art technology, including 3D imaging and intra-operative CAT scans that ensured bones, implantable plates and screws to anchor the face were all aligned perfectly.
Ten days after the procedure, Underwood saw his new face for the first time. At a press conference Thursday, he thanked his doctors and had an emotional message for his donor. "I want Shelly and her family to know how much my family and I appreciate their gift and I will always honor Will's legacy," said Underwood.
The donor was Manhattan resident, 23-year-old William Fisher. He had registered as an organ donor prior to his death.
Underwood still has a way to go but has made remarkable progress. Rodriguez pointed out that, "There are things he has to work at. Chewing, the ability to swallow, speak, and speech therapy is a very important part of his healing process."
Underwood has embraced life again, his sense of humor clearly intact, jokingly telling Rodriguez that, "He did such a good job, I can use my old ID."
Face transplants are incredibly complex surgeries that can take more than 24 hours to complete.