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Face transplant recipient meets donor's sister in Virginia

Rebekah Aversano said transplant recipient Richard Norris has "the face I grew up with."

By Ben Hooper

HILLSVILLE, Va., May 29 (UPI) -- A Maryland woman whose family donated her brother's face after a fatal accident traveled to Virginia to meet the man who received the face in a transplant.

Rebekah Aversano, whose 21-year-old brother, Joshua, was struck and killed by a van three years ago, visited the Hillsville home of Richard Norris, whose 2012 face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center was described as "the most extensive full face transplant completed to date."

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A clip shared on YouTube by 60 Minutes Australia, which filmed Aversano's meeting with Norris for a segment to air during the weekend, shows Norris allow Aversano to touch her late brother's face.

"Wow, this is the face I grew up with," Aversano said.

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Norris said the surgery brought an end to 15 years of self-imposed isolation after he was disfigured by an accidental self-inflicted shotgun blast.

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead surgeon for Norris' face transplant, said Norris' antibodies will always see his new face as a foreign invader and he will have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. He said the patient must also avoid smoking, drinking and sunburns to ensure he stays healthy.

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The surgery was made possible in part by a grant from the Office of Naval Research in the Department of Defense. The university said Norris' surgery opened the door for future operations on soldiers wounded by explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Aversano's mother, Gwen, said the family was pleased to be able to help Norris.

"We can definitely see our son in him," she told CTV News. "Some of the facial features would definitely be our son, so we could see similarities, very much so. We are just so pleased we have been able to help him. Even though we had such a tragic loss, we were able to give someone else the benefit of our son."

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