When plastic surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez performed one of the most extensive face transplants in history on Richard Lee Norris in 2012, he didn’t have a guide. He had to carry out the highly complex process of forming the tongue, jaw, teeth and facial skin of the 39-year-old man whose face was accidentally blown off with a shotgun by piecing together his knowledge.
Two decades before, Dr Rodriguez started out his career has a dentist. There wasn’t a specific moment that he decided to transform the field of facial plastic surgery, it was simply part of the evolutionary process of his training, he tells The Independent humbly.
“We take the patient to the point of no return, and hope that everything works when we repair the tissues and connect the nerves and blood vessels. However, we cannot truly predict what will be the ultimate return of function until well into the patient’s recovery,” he says the surgeon based at NYU Langone in New York.
The American doctor specialises in treating patients with extreme trauma, from accidents, cancers, to birth defects, and has conducted thousands of life-changing operations that have helped them to smile again or have restored functions in their limbs. Norris is among his most successful and high-profile cases, as is former fire fighter Patrick Hardison whose face was disfigured by burns in the line of duty in 2001. His face transplant in 2015 was the only one to involve the eyelids, ears, scalp and face. In both instance, the risk of death was 50 per cent.