Feb. 20 (UPI) — A Wyoming man recovering from a facial transplant is pleased with the result months after the surgery.
Andy Sandness, 32, opted to undergo the rare procedure at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., nearly 10 years after he shot himself in the face during a failed suicide attempt at the age of 21.
“I was stupid. I made the wrong choice, and I’m paying for it for the rest of my life,” Sandness told KARE.
Several months after the June 16 surgery, he said it “far exceeded” his expectations at the time. Sandness said he is grateful for the second chance he received as he continues to learn how to speak again.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out in the world and doing the things I missed out on. I missed out on a lot over the last 10 years,” he said.
After being told he would have to wait years to find a donor, Calen Ross was found just months after Sandness was placed on a waiting list.
Sandness shared a special connection with his donor, as Ross did not survive after he shot himself in June 2016.
His widow was wary at first, but agreed to fulfill her late husband’s request to be an organ donor after learning Sandness had his own eyes and forehead and would not bear a strong resemblance to Ross.
With a donor in place, the task of completing the unusual surgery went to Dr. Samir Mardini, who spent years practicing the procedure by transplanting the faces of cadavers.
“50 Saturdays over the last three and half years just dedicated to being able to do this procedure well for Andrew,” he said.
Mardini said 3-D technology guided the doctors who performed the surgery as they cut exact angles to connect the complicated facial nerves from the donor’s face to the patient’s, replacing almost all of Sandness’s face below the eyes.
“So when we took the donor’s face with all the complex bones of the jaw, and put it on the recipient, it fit perfectly,” he said.
Thankful for his new face, Sandness sent a letter to his donor’s widow to find some of her husband’s favorite things in order to honor Ross for providing him with a second chance.
“He’s still going to continue to love hunting and fishing and dogs – through me,” Sandness said.