Eleven months after he was subjected to a person's transplant surgery in New York, Cameron Underwood laughed again.
The 26-year-old man in Juba, California, lost most of his lower jaw, nose and all but one tooth after suffering a self-inflicted wound in his face in June 2016.
After several unsuccessful attempts at a conventional facial reconstruction, Underwood and his family reached the renowned plastic surgeon, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and President of the Plastic Surgery Department at New Jan Launon Health.
Shortly thereafter, Dr Rodriguez met with Underwood and found she was a good candidate for a person's transplant.
"When we first met Cameron, we were convinced that we could improve his appearance and, more importantly, his function and quality of life," Rodriguez said in a press release Thursday.
Underwood had to wait only six months after being placed on the list of organ donors in July 2017 before a perfect match was found. William Fisher, a 23-year-old writer and ambitious director from New York, registered himself as an organ donor before his death and was selected as a compatible donor for Underwood.
After receiving a permit from the Fischer family and obtaining appropriate approvals, Dr. Rodriguez was preparing to lead a surgical team from New Yoon Langone Health in the third person's transplant in his career, the latter being considered the most extensive transplant of a person, according to the health center.
The plastic surgeon said he was optimistic about Underwood's prospect of success over a relatively short period of time – only 18 months – since he was injured in the operation.
"Cameron did not live with his injury for a decade or more, like most other transplant recipients," he said. "As a result, he did not have to deal with many long-term psychosocial problems that often led to issues such as severe depression, substance abuse and other potentially harmful behaviors."
In January, a team of more than 100 medical workers from New York's Langone Healthcare transplanted and reconstructed Upper and Lower Legs of Underwood, his mouth and all 32 teeth and gums. His nose, lower eyelids, and cheeks were also replaced during the 25-hour operation.
The surgical team used state-of-the-art technology, including 3D imaging and intraoperative SCT scans to ensure perfect matching of the bones of the face, and the plates and screws to grab the donor's face to Underwood were in the right position.
After a successful operation, Underwood spent several weeks in hospital before being sent to the deadline in February. He returned home to California and since then traveled to New York for monthly meetings.
On Thursday, Underwood stood on stage in front of the audience, which included his family, which shows the results of his operation almost a year ago. He took the opportunity to thank Dr. Rodriguez and his medical team, as well as his donor's family.
"I want Sally [Fisher’s mother] and her family to know how much my family and I appreciate their gift and will always pay tribute to Will's legacy, "he told a news conference in New York.
Despite being grieved over the death of her son, Sally said he was grateful that his decision to become a donor could give the Underwood a second chance.
"Being part of this experience is a source of strength for me in a very difficult period. I do not think I will survive Will's death if not for Cameron," she said in a statement. "Cameron has his whole life ahead of him – and I love the idea that Willy helps him to have a better life."
Despite the impressive results of Underwood, Dr. Rodriguez said that his patient still has a lot of work in the healing process, such as improving chewing, swallowing and talking. He will also have to continue taking medication against rejection until the end of his life, so that his body does not reject his new face.
Although his path to recovery has not been completed, Underwood said he remains positive and looks forward to the future. He also took a moment to praise Dr. Rodriguez for his efforts.
"He did such a good job, I can use my old identifier," he joked at the local WCBS press conference after the press conference.
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