A widow who lost her husband to suicide last year got the opportunity to see his face once again after his face was transplanted onto a man whose attempted suicide by shotgun left him without a face of his own.
After Calen “Rudy” Ross killed himself in 2016, several of his body parts, including his kidneys and lungs, were donated to needy recipients. But it was the gift of his face that completely changed Andy Sandness’s life and put him in touch with Ross’s widow, Lilly Ross.
“Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure,” she said, nearly overtaken by emotion. “Everything happened so fast.”
Sandness was left disfigured a decade ago after he miraculously survived a shotgun blast to the face, but his quality of life plummeted. He was forced to wear a prosthetic nose that sometimes fell off and had trouble looking at himself in the mirror.
“I wouldn’t go out in public,” he recalled. “I hated going into bigger cities.”
Seventeen months ago, Sandness underwent a grueling 56-hour transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic that gave him the face that Ross left behind. And last month, Lilly Ross and her toddler, Leonard, got to meet the man whose life her husband had improved immeasurably.
“It made me proud,” Ross said of Sandness’s newfound confidence. “The way Rudy saw himself… he didn’t see himself like that.”
At one point during their meeting, Ross reached out to touch Sandness’s new face and noticed a spot on his chin where his beard did not fill in.
“That’s why he always grew it so long,” she recalled, “so he could try to mesh it together on the chin.”
Sandness, who undergoes a strict daily regimen of training and anti-rejection medication to stimulate his nerves and improve his speech, is forever grateful for the new lease on life.
“I wanted to show you that your gift will not be wasted,” he told Lilly and Leonard.