A widow has had an emotional meeting with the man who was given her late husband’s face in a transplant.
Lilly Ross met Andy Sandness 16 months after a 56-hour operation involving more than 60 medical professionals that saw him take on the face of her high school sweetheart Calen ‘Rudy’ Ross.
The meeting was arranged by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where the procedure took place.
Calen took his own life in 2016, aged 21, a decade after Andy, now 32, was shot in the face.
Surgery to rebuild his face left him with a tiny mouth and a prosthetic nose that frequently fell off and he retreated from the world, ashamed of his injuries, until he became part of a face transplant programme at the Mayo Clinic.
In 2016 Lilly had agreed to donate her husband’s lungs, kidneys and other organs to patients in need.
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But when it was found that Andy and Calen’s ages, blood type, skin colour and facial structure were so closely matched, she agreed to the transplant despite reservations over seeing her husband’s face on a stranger.
Visiting Andy with her late husband’s child Leonard, she said the meeting had helped her move past her husband’s death.
“Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure,” she said. “Everything happened so fast.”
Andy, who is on daily anti-rejection medication and is working to retrain his nerves to work with his new face, said the transplant had given him a new life.
“I wouldn’t go out in public. I hated going into bigger cities,” he said. “And now I’m just really spreading my wings and doing the things I missed out on – going out to restaurants and eating, going dancing.”
Of their meeting, he told Lilly: “I wanted to show you that your gift will not be wasted.”
The pair now plan to build a stronger connection and Andy wants to contribute to a trust fund for Leonard’s education.