Record-Setting Face Transplant Gives California Man New Lease On Life
Published in Dec 2020 / Updated in Feb 2021
After a self-inflicted gunshot damaged his eyes, nose, jaw, and most of his face, a California man gets a new face through a face transplant.
If someone contemplates suicide, a therapist tries to talk them out of it. They also remind them that whatever means of self-harm they choose, it might not actually kill them. Instead, it can leave them incapacitated for the rest of their life.
That’s what happened to Cameron Underwood. He was just 24 when he tried to take his own life.
Underwood had struggled with depression since he was a teenager. A night after heavy drinking, he put a gun under his chin, then pulled the trigger.
However, the bullet didn’t kill him. Instead, it left him with facial injuries that prevented him from returning to life as he knew it.
The gunshot destroyed most of his face below the eyes, including his jaw, his nose, and every tooth but one.
Once an active man who loved the outdoors, Underwood could barely speak. He also had to eat through a tube.
About a year and a half later, however, he had the chance to experience something life-changing.
His family decided to turn to the facial transplant team at Langone Health, led by Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez.
His mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, recalled:
“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.”
Eventually, Underwood’s case cleared Langone Health’s approval process, placing him on the waiting list for a donor.
And a New York resident William Fisher later donated his face to him.
Underwood then underwent a 25-hour face surgery that gave him an entirely new face.
According to IFLScience:
“Underwood received Fisher’s upper and lower jawbones, including his 32 teeth, palate (roof of the mouth), the floor of the mouth, lower eyelids, cheeks, nose, and nasal passage sections.”
“Underwood’s own tongue remained but underwent reconstruction.”
And after a successful procedure, Dr. Rodriguez said:
“When we first met Cameron, we were confident we could improve his appearance and, more importantly, his function and quality of life.”
Following a long recovery period, Underwood opened a new chapter in his life with a new face.
At a press conference in New York, he said:
“I am so grateful to have a face transplant because it gives me a second chance at life…”
“I have a nose and a mouth. So I’m able to smile, to speak, and eat solid foods again.”
“I’ve been able to get back to many of the activities I love, like being outdoors, playing sports, and spending time with my friends and family.”
“I hope to get back to work soon and someday to start a family.”
While Langone Health doctors were thrilled they gave Underwood a new lease on life, they were also excited about the new developments his case represented.
Underwood’s case marked the shortest timeframe from injury to face transplant—18 months.
It also had one of the shortest wait times for a donor—six months—and shortest surgeries and recovery periods.