Rebekah Aversano’s brother passed away three years ago, but she can still see him in the flesh, albeit on the head of another man.
This was the moment Rebekah met the man who received her dead brother’s face.
The man’s name is Richard Norris. Severely disfigured after shooting his face with a gun he believed was not loaded, the 39-year-old was left without teeth, a nose and only part of his tongue. He was still able to taste but could not smell.
After waiting around five years for a perfect donor, Norris underwent one of the most complex face transplants in history which took 36 hours to complete. He received hair, teeth, a jaw and even a tongue from Joshua, Rebekah’s brother.
Going into the operation, Norris knew he only had a 50% chance of survival. Norris’ mother Sandra said, “We looked at Richard and we told him we loved him the way he was and it didn’t matter to us, but it was his life. That was what he wanted to do and we supported him.”
Norris chose to take the risk because he said he had “lived through hell”, hiding behind a mask and only leaving his house at night after facing cruelty from strangers.
Shortly after 21-year-old Joshua was hit by a van while crossing the street, his family was asked if they would donate his face to another person.
Now, three years later, Joshua’s sister decided to meet with Norris, to see her brother’s face once more.
In an emotional meeting, Rebekah felt her late brother’s skin on Richard’s face. “It’s just seeing your lips and nose and eyebrows,” she said. “He’s gone, but in a way he’s still here.”
“This is the face I grew up with,” she added.
Gwen Aversano, Rebekah and Joshua’s mother, said, “It was the right thing to do.”
Speaking to Norris’ parents, Gwen said: “I can only imagine how you guys felt watching your son living how he was living… we couldn’t not do it, we couldn’t keep it to ourselves.”