Lilly Ross, a Minnesota widow, was excited as she met the man who received her late husband’s face. She and her son had the chance of touching and feeling once again the face of Rudy, who killed himself in 2016.

Andy Sandness’ face was haggard after he attempted to commit suicide a decade ago. However, after Calen “Rudy” Ross died, Andy had the chance of changing his life by receiving a facial transplant. Recently, Lilly and Andy met to see the final results of a long surgery and their emotional moment at a hospital library was recorded.

Mayo Clinic, Face transplant Minnesota, Andy Sandness
Lilly touches Andy’s face, which was once her husband’s. Image credit: AP Photo

“You look really good,” Lily told Andy Sandness, embracing him like she had known him all her life.

Andy and Rudy shared a similar history

In 2006, Wyoming native, Andy Sandness, decided to put a gun against his chin and he pulled the trigger. Though doctors managed to keep him alive, Andy’s face was destroyed. He was 21 back then.

A decade after Andy’s incident, specifically in June 2016, Rudy Ross from Minnesota shot himself and died. He also was also 21 at the moment. His wife, Lily, was 8-months pregnant back then.

Apparently, both men went through similar difficult phases, but they also enjoyed going outdoors and fishing, even their age, and appearance were not that different. The big difference is that Andy got another chance to live his life. Sadly, he couldn’t move on because he was ashamed of his appearance. He avoided going out, visiting new places and he hid from people. After the gunshot, his mouth was not larger than the size of a quarter. He had a prosthetic nose that would fall off his face, occasionally.

“I wouldn’t go out in public; I hated going into bigger cities,” he said.

The opportunity to improve other people’s life

Though Lilly was desolated by her husband’s suicide, she agreed to donate Rudy’s face after being asked by an organization which focuses on arranging donations of organs and tissues. That was how Andy’s doctors told him they had found a new face for him. Rudy’s lungs and kidneys were also donated.

Last year, Andy went through a 56-hour surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that would completely change his life. He became the clinic’s first face transplant recipient. Doctors changed Andy’s nose, upper and lower jaw, teeth, palate, cheeks, facial muscles, oral mucosa, some of the salivary glands and the skin of the face.

Andy’s surgeons used 3D printing and virtual surgical planning technology to optimize the results of the transplant. Thanks to this technological advance, doctors knew the exact angle and location of the cuts. So when they put Rudy’s face on Andy’s, it matched perfectly.

Now that his wounds have healed, he decided to meet Lilly, the person who made this change possible.

Lilly admitted that she was terrified and excited to meet Andy and to see how he looked like. When she saw him, she said that he looked great. Lilly asked him if she could touch his face, and so she did while she imagined Rudy for the last time. The widow started laughing as she felt Andy’s new beard. Andy thanked her for giving him a new face and said he wanted to meet her to show her that the gift was not wasted.

“When you first do something like this, it’s just a big excitement to finally meet each other just to — I mean, the buildup is just so much,” Sandness said in a video released by the Mayo Clinic. “And then there’s anxiety and pressure.”

Their meeting at the hospital library occurred at the end of October, and now the video was released.

Lilly knew that seeing the face of her husband on somebody else’s face was going to be tough, but she said she agreed to do it because she wanted her son to know the good things his father did for other people after he died.

Mayo Clinic, Face transplant Minnesota, Andy Sandness
Andy Sandness (left) before his accident and Calen “Rudy” Ross. Image credit: Courtesy of Andy Sandness and Lilly Ross/AP

Lilly also pointed out the differences and similarities between Andy’s new appearance and her husband. She took a family photo album to show Rudy to Andy. According to Lilly, their chin was alike because it didn’t grow hair in the middle. She said that besides the flushed cheeks and the mole on the nose, she doesn’t see much of Rudy in Andy.

Andy also got the chance of meeting his donor’s son, the 17-month-old Leonard Ross. He said he is an adorable boy while he held him in his arms.

“I don’t know that you can ever say enough thanks for what they’ve given me,” he said. “I mean, Lilly, it’s an unbelievable … it’s an unbelievable gift. There just, I mean, you can’t … you can’t give enough thanks. You can’t give enough money. There’s nothing you can do. Except now I can just show them.”

Source: The Washington Post