THE recipient of the most extensive face transplant ever performed has admitted he has had to learn how to kiss again, now that he has a girlfriend.
Two years ago, Richard Lee Norris underwent a 36-hour operation at the University of Maryland Medical Center to reconstruct his face, which had been blown off in a self-inflicted gunshot blast in 1997.
In the two years since the operation, which was conducted by surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, Mr Norris has made a remarkable recovery — albeit with numerous setbacks. He will be required to take medications for the rest of his life to stop his body rejecting the new facial tissue.
The Sun reports that Mr Norris has been seeing 43-year-old Melanie Solis, from New Orleans, and he has needed to relearn the art of kissing.
“Kissing is something we have been asked to ‘practise’ because Richard hasn’t redeveloped the ability to ‘pucker,’” Ms Solis told the paper.
Prior to the operation, Mr Norris had no teeth, no nose and only part of his tongue. He was still able to taste but could not smell.
Because of numerous reconstructive surgeries, his forehead and neck were mostly scar tissue.
The transplant operation was the most extensive ever done because it included the teeth, upper and lower jaw, a portion of the tongue and all facial tissue from the scalp to the base of the neck.
“I can’t have any regrets — especially now I have met Melanie. People focus too much on looks, they can be very superficial,” Mr Norris told The Sun.
The 39-year-old Virginia resident lived as a recluse for 15 years after shooting himself in the face during a drunken incident in 1997, keeping indoors and donning ski masks if he had to venture outdoors.
Earlier this year he featured as the ‘face’ of the US edition of GQ magazine, revealing more about his years of solitude and misery.
His face transplant was the 23rd such operation since doctors began doing the procedure.
The first full face transplant was performed in France in 2005 on a woman who was mauled by her dog.