Eleven months after having undergone a facial transplant surgery in New York, Cameron Underwood smiles again.
A 26-year-old man from Yuba, California, lost most of the lower jaw, nose, and even less a tooth after he suffered a bullet wound self-inflicted on his face in June of 2016.
After several failed attempts at conventional face reconstruction, Underwood and his family arrived at the prestigious plastic surgeon, Dr. Eduardo Rodríguez, a professor of reconstructive plastic surgery and the chair of the plastic surgery department of NYU Langone Health.
Shortly afterwards, Dr. Rodriguez met with Underwood and determined that he was a good candidate for a transplant of faces.
"When we met Cameron, we were sure to improve their appearance and, more importantly, their function and quality of life," said Dr. Rodríguez in a press release on Thursday.
Underwood only had to wait six months after being placed on the donor list of eggs in July 2017 before a perfect match for him was found. William Fisher, a 23-year-old New York writer and aspirant, had been a donor before his death and was selected as a compatible donor for Underwood.
After receiving the permission of the Fisher family and obtaining the appropriate approvals, Dr. Rodriguez was prepared to lead a surgical team at NYU Langone Health in the third transplant of his career, the second of which is considered extensively the most extensive transplant in the registry, according to the health center.
The plastic surgeon said he was optimistic about the success of Underwood due to the relatively short period of time, only 18 months, when he was injured in the surgery.
"Cameron has not lived with his injury for a decade or more, like most other facial transplant recipients," he said. "As a result, I have not had to deal with many of the long-term psychosocial problems that often cause problems such as severe depression, the abuse of substances and other potentially harmful behaviors."
In January, a team of more than 100 medical professionals from NYU Langone Health transplanted and rebuilt Underwood's upper and lower jaws, their mouth and all 32 teeth and gums. The nose, lower eyelids and cheeks were also replaced during the surgery of 25 hours.
The surgical team used state-of-the-art technology, including 3D images and intra-operative scanner to ensure that the facial bones were perfectly aligned and the plates and screws to swallow the face of the donor to Underwood were in the correct position .
After successful surgery, Underwood spent several weeks in the hospital before he was discharged prior to the scheduled in February. He returned to his home in California and traveled to New York to do monthly monitoring appointments since then.
On Thursday, Underwood was staged in front of a public – which included his family beaming – to show the results of his surgery almost a year ago. He took the opportunity to thank Dr. Rodríguez and his medical team, as well as the family of his donors.
"I want Sally [Fisher’s mother] and her family to know what my family and I are grateful for their gift and will always honor Will's legacy, "he told the press conference in New York.
Although he was saddened by the death of his son, Sally said he was grateful that his decision to be a donor could give Underwood a second chance.
"Being part of this experience has been a source of strength for me during a very difficult time. I do not think I would have survived the death of Will, if not for Cameron," he said in a statement. "Cameron has all his life ahead of him, and I love the idea that Willie is helping to have a better life."
In spite of the impressive results of Underwood, Dr. Rodríguez said that his patient still has many tasks to do in his healing process, such as improving his cheeks, swallowing and talking. You should also continue to take anti-tiring medications for the rest of your life so that your body does not reject your new face.
Although his path to recovery has not ended, Underwood said that it is still positive and waiting for the future. He also took a moment to praise Dr. Rodríguez for his efforts.
"He did such a good job, I can use my old identification," he joked at the local WCBS news station after the press conference.