Imagine walking down the street and seeing the face of a deceased loved one on another person’s body. The experience would be surreal for most of us, but not for 28-year old Rebekah Aversano. Rebekah’s 21-year old brother, Joshua, dreamed of being a Marine, but that dream came to a swift end when he was hit by a car and killed on impact.
When Richard was just 23-years old, half of his face was blown away by a devastating shotgun blast. As a result, he spent the next decade and a half hiding his face, refusing to go outdoors, and shying away from any social events. His doctors saw him as the perfect candidate for the first ever face transplant.
When approached about the idea of Joshua’s face being transplanted onto a stranger’s, one who had the same hair, skin color, blood type and even a similar bone structure to Joshua’s, the family was more than willing to make the donation. Though tragic, the transplant helped Joshua’s family to rest easier knowing that his death was not in vain.
“We have in our power to give someone another chance at life,” Rebekah tells Inside Edition.
The operation took a whopping 36-hours and took place at The University of Maryland Medical Center. Though extensive and grueling, the operation was a success. Once complete, Richard was a changed man, both inside and out.
“His nose, his lips, his teeth, his jawbone…his hair,” Rebekah observes, “Everything belongs to my brother.” Joshua’s donation to Richard goes beyond the cosmetic, though. Within Richard’s face are Joshua’s facial muscles, his bones, and even his tongue.
The world of medicine is always evolving, and thanks to doctors like Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead doctor of Norris’s 150-person medical team, procedures such as face transplants are now possible. This is yet another huge step for mankind and will change the way that accident victims, babies born with defects, and other people with disfigurements live their lives. Richard’s story is proof of that.
Richard believed that his new life as a recluse was how it was going to be for the rest of his life, but thanks to medical technology and a team of doctors who were unwilling to give up on him, he was pleasantly surprised.
“There are no words to describe it,” Richard says, “I have my face back.”
As for the Aversano family: they say that knowing a part of Joshua still lives on has helped them cope with his sudden and tragic death.
This video is a touching a moment between Rebekah Aversano and Richard as she marvels at Richard’s likeness to Joshua, and reminisces about her brother.
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