Seven months after receiving a full face transplant, Richard Lee Norris can go out in public without getting a second look.
Norris, 37, is now able to smell and taste, the University of Maryland Medical Center said in an update on his recovery. He can also smile again.
He lost his jaws, tongue, nose and lips in 1997 when a 12 gauge shotgun went off in his face as he removed it from its case.
After the accident, he spent 15 years living as a recluse, only going out to shop late at night with his disfigured face covered by a surgical mask.
In March, University of Maryland surgeons spent 36 hours rebuilding his features and reattaching nerves in the most extensive face transplant ever performed.
After the historic operation, Norris, of Hillsville, Va., began intensive physical and speech therapy.
“I am doing well,” he said in the update. “I spend a lot of my time fishing and working on my golf game. I am also enjoying time with my family and friends.”
Many of those friends “moved on with their lives, starting families and careers” while he lived in hiding, he said. “I can now start working on the new life given back to me.”
Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the surgery, said Norris is “exceeding expectations” in his recovery, and praised him as “one of the most courageous and committed individuals I know.”
He’s still seeing doctors to make sure his face is healing and working with therapists to regain his full speech capabilities.
But in the meantime, he said, “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.”