The man who underwent a grueling face transplant at the beginning of this year opened his new “I” to the world today.
Cameron Underwood, 26, from California, struggled with depression and alcohol abuse, and as a result, he tried to take his life in June 2016.
A suicide attempt destroyed most of his face, but by a miracle he survived.
Cameron lacked most of the lower jaw, each tooth, but one, nose and badly damaged by his upper region and the sky.
Formerly a welder and machinist, Cameron undertook several reconstructive operations before finding Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez at New York University Langone in New York.
His mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, said she had read an article in People magazine about a face transplant program in New York and decided to ask her son.
“When we read about what Dr. Rodriguez did for other patients, we knew that he was the only person we trust Cameron’s life in,” Beverly said.
"We were ready to travel long distances."
Now, about 11 months after the 25-hour operation, Cameron is working to live the life he once knew, being outdoors, playing sports and spending time with friends and family.
“I am very grateful for the face transplant, because it gives me a second chance in life,” he said.
"Despite the fact that I am still recovering and gaining back sensation and mobility, mainly with my lips, I am still very pleased with the results,
"I have a nose and a mouth, so I can smile, speak and eat solid food again."
Cameron said it was “exciting” when he first saw his new face, adding, “It was amazing with excitement.”
According to Dr. Rodriguez, when he first met Cameron, he was convinced that he could help him restore his quality of life.
“It’s really great for all of us to be a part of it and do it,” he said.
"We could not bring him back to normal life without a face transplant."
Rodriguez led a team of more than 100 medical specialists to complete the operation, which began on 5 January.
This required the use of 3D computer-aided surgical planning and a three-dimensional printed mask of the donor’s face — a new approach for the medical team.
The procedure included the transplant and reconstruction of the upper and lower jaw bones, including all 32 teeth and gums, the roof of the mouth, the lower eyelids and cheeks, the nose and the nasal passages.
Cameron's donor was a 23-year-old writer and film director William Fisher from New York.
William also struggled with mental illness for several years before his death.
His mother, Sally, said in a statement: “The death of my son was a tragedy.
"I am grateful that in honor of his decision we were able to give life to others."
William, who registered as an organ donor in adolescence, was identified as an Underwood donor the day before a life-changing operation.
Today Cameron thanked Rodriguez, NYU Langone Health, his family and William and the Fisher family.
“I will always respect Will’s legacy,” he said.
– If you or someone you know need help, please contact Lifeline at 13 11 14. For help with depression, please see Beyond Blue for a list of organizations that can help.
This story originally appeared on the Sun and was reprinted here with permission.