A widow was able to run her fingers across her deceased husband’s face again after it was donated to a man who survived a suicide attempt.
Andy Sandness survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face in Christmas 2006 that left him disfigured and without a nose and jaw. When he returned home after his recovery—wearing prosthetics that would often fall from his face—he distanced himself from social situations and lied to people when they asked what had happened. Things would start to change in 2012, when he joined a face transplant program at the Mayo Clinic that matched him with a donor in 2016. After going through a 56-hour-long surgery, Sandness had a new face, which he received from Calen Ross, who committed suicide that year.
Sandness was finally able to meet with Calen’s widow, Lilly Ross, at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on November 3. The meeting gave Lilly the first opportunity to see and touch her husband’s face since his death.
“Meeting Andy, it has finally giving me closure,” Lilly told the AP.
Calen committed suicide when Lilly was pregnant with their son in 2016. After his passing, Lilly decided to donate his organs to people in need. When doctors reviewed the face to see how well it would match with Sandness, they said the men’s ages, blood type, skin color and facial structure were so near-perfect that they could have been cousins.
Lilly brought along her 17-month-old son, Lenoard, to the emotional meeting so he could see how his father was able to help a stranger, she said. On the day of meeting, Lenoard was apprehensive to approach Sandness, but after some time had passed, he walked over to him and waved to Sandness to pick him up.
Sandness takes anti-rejection medication every day, and he is continually retraining his nerves to work together with his new face. He says the alphabet to himself while driving to improve his speech, and gives himself massages whenever he can. The transplant has worked wonders for his self-confidence, and Sandness said he is no longer hiding from the world.
“Now I’m just really spreading my wings and doing the things I missed out on—going to restaurants and eating, going dancing,” Sandness, 32, said.
Plastic surgeon Dr. Samir Mardini, who conducted the operation, said he, too, sees a positive change since the surgery.
“It turns out Andy is not as much of an introvert as we thought,” Mardini said. “He’s enjoying these times, where he’s missed out on 10 years of his life.”