Man Receives Life-Changing Face Transplant After 56-Hour Surgery

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

When he was just 21-years-old, Andy Sandness attempted to take his own life. And though he survived, he lost his nose, mouth, and jaw in the process. Now, 10 years later, he has been given a new chance to blend into a crowd thanks to a face transplant at the Mayo Clinic.

Sandness had been a patient at the Mayo Clinic since the 2006 incident, undergoing 8 surgeries in the month following the tragic event. And while they tried to repair the damage the best they could, there was little they could do about his missing mouth and jaw. Then, in 2012, he received news that would change his life.

The clinic was launching a face transplant program and asked if he'd been interested. For Sandness, who had been left with a prosthetic nose and had to tear food into small pieces and suck on them in order to eat, it was the moment he'd been waiting for.

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

“When you look like I looked and you function like I functioned, every little bit of hope that you have, you just jump on it,” he told the AP, “and this was the surgery that was going to take me back to normal.”

To prepare for the complex procedure, doctors at the Mayo Clinic spent 50 Saturdays over the next three years training. After being accepted into the program in January 2016, Sandness was expecting a long wait before being called. However, in June 2016 he received word that a match was found.

Calen “Rudy” Ross, who at age 21 died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, had previously declared his intent to be an organ donor. And, after some hesitation, his wife, who was 8 months pregnant at the time, agreed to the surgery.

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

An enormous team of 60 worked together to complete the 56-hour surgery. Sandness, who was not allowed to see himself for three weeks post-op, was overwhelmed by the results. “Once you lose something that you've had forever, you know what it's like not to have it,” he admitted. “And once you get a second chance to have it back, you never forget it.”

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

Last December he returned for surgery to tighten skin around his face and neck and to build up bone so his eyes were less recessed. The transformation is incredible. Apart from the physical, Sandness is able to smell again and breath normally. He can now also eat foods like pizza and apples that were previously off limits.

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

Best of all, he's anonymous. Recently, Sandness attended a hockey game. After a decade of stares and whispers, he was happy to be “just another face in the crowd.”

first face transplant andy sandness mayo clinic

Watch the incredible tale of the Mayo Clinic's first face transplant.

h/t: [Yahoo! News, Science Alert]

All images via the Mayo Clinic.

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content