Cameron Underwood, a 26-year-old man who underwent a face transplant this year, showed off his new smile to the world on Thursday.
In June 2016, Underwood suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to face, which heavily damaged most of his jaw, nose, palate, and teeth, according to an NYU Langone Health press statement. Despite many attempts at conventional reconstruction surgery, Underwood was still missing key areas of his face.
Beverly Bailey-Potter, Underwood’s mother, read about Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, and decided to contact him for help. Underwood and Bailey-Potter then left their hometown of Yuba City, Calif., to travel to New York City to meet Dr. Rodriguez and his team who would give Underwood his life-changing face transplant.
“When we read about what Dr. Rodriguez had done for his other patients, we knew he was the only person to whom we would trust Cameron’s life,” said Bailey-Potter in the press statement. “We were willing to travel the long distance.”
On Jan. 5, a team of more than 100 medical professionals led by Rodriguez performed Underwood’s face transplant surgery, which took approximately 25 hours to complete. Underwood’s face transplant was the third face transplant completed by Rodriguez and his team, who, according to NYU Langone Health, completed the most extensive face transplant on record in 2015.
Since 2005, more than 40 faceplants have been performed worldwide and Underwood’s latest surgery marks a milestone in the medical procedure. Underwood received the face transplant almost 18 months after his self-inflicted injury, which was the shortest period reported from the original incident. This quick timeframe, according to Rodriguez, would aid Underwood’s emotional and physical recovery.
“Cameron has not lived with his injury for a decade or longer like most other face transplant recipients have,” said Rodriguez. “As a result, he has not had to deal with many of the long-term psychosocial issues which often lead to issues like severe depression, substance abuse, and other potentially harmful behaviors.”
Unlike previous face transplant cases, Underwood had to only wait six months for a donor. His donor, William Fisher, a 23-year-old aspiring filmmaker and writer, was a great match for Underwood. Fisher, who resided in New York City before his death, is remembered by family and friends as a loving and intelligent individual.
“Being a part of this experience has been a source of strength for me during a very difficult time. I don’t think I would have survived Will’s death if not for Cameron,” said Fisher’s mother, Sally. “Cameron has his whole life ahead of him—and I love the idea that Willie is helping him have a better life.”
On Thursday, Underwood thanked Rodriguez’s medical team and his donor for his second chance at life.
“Will and his family made an incredible sacrifice to give back to me what had been lost. I will never forget that. I’m also eternally grateful to Dr. Rodriguez and his face transplant team,” said Underwood at an NYU Langone Health press conference. “My family and I could not have made this journey without them. We hope my experience inspires others who have severe facial injuries to have hope, as I was inspired by others who came before me. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it.”
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