In January of this year, a surgical team from New York University's Langone Health performed a face transplant on 26-year-old Cameron Underwood of Yuba City. Cameron suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to face in June of 2016. Despite several conventional surgeries, he was without the majority of his lower jaw, just one tooth, and his nose. He also had damage to his upper face and palate, all of which severely impacted his ability to lead a normal life.
Doctors say Langone Health is one only a handful of medical centers in the United States equipped for such a procedure.
Doctors began the surgery on the morning of Friday, January 5, and took about 25 hours over the course of two day to complete the transplant. The lead physician on the surgical team was Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez. He is also the chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone.
This was the third face transplant performed by Rodriguez. In August 2015, he and his team at NYU Langone performed a similar procedure which is generally considered to be the most extensive face transplant to date.
"When we first met Cameron, we were confident we could improve his appearance and, more importantly, his function and quality of life," Rodriguez said. "Advances in medical technology allow us to more rapidly evaluate donors and recipients for face transplant, and to perform surgery more safely and efficiently. But, in the end, it’s all about the patient. Cameron has put in the work and has made the necessary commitments."
The donor for Underwood's surgery was a 23-year-old Manhattan man by the name of William Fisher. He reportedly was a chess champion, aspiring writer, a filmmaker, and a student at Johns Hopkins University. Fisher is said to have been a registered organ donor since he was a teenager.
Underwood spent several weeks recovering at NYU Langone after the surgery, but he was finally discharged on February 16, weeks ahead of schedule. He lived in a nearby apartment provided by the myFace, which is NYU Langone’s partner organization, and continued outpatient rehabilitation including physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
On March 29, Underwood went home to Yuba City, but he returns to New York City monthly for follow-up appointments. He also will eventually need to begin a strict regimen of anti-rejection medications that will last for the rest of his life.
Underwood remains positive and focused on his new life and is grateful to his donor and the Fisher family for what they have done for him.
"Will and his family made an incredible sacrifice to give back to me what had been lost," he says. "I will never forget that. I'm also eternally grateful to Dr. Rodriguez and his face transplant team. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it.”
Rodriguez also says he believes a personal relationship will continue with the Underwood family. "You develop ties with you these patients," added. "You go the worst of times and the best of times with them."