Grieving widow Lilly Ross was able to see and feel her late husband’s face after it was transplanted on to Andy Sandness, a man who survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound 10 years ago.
In hopes of helping others, Ross decided to donate her husband’s organs — including his lungs, kidneys, and face — to someone who was in need. And, although she was nervous about seeing her husband’s face again, she said seeing Sandness made her proud.
“Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure,” Ross told the AP.
The emotional meeting included Ross’ 17-month-old son, Lenoard. Ross said she not only wanted to meet Sandness for her own closure, but so her son could see that his father helped others. When the two met, Ross embraced Sandness as if she’d known him for years. “You look really good,” she told Sandness.
As the couple sat together in a hospital library, Ross reached out to touch the face that once belonged to her high school sweetheart.
“I’m going to close my eyes,” Sandness said. Laughing, Ross lightly stroked his beard. “It feels really good,” she said. “That’s why he always grew it so long, so he could try to mesh it together on the chin.”
In 2016, Sandness underwent a 56-hour surgery, making his surgery the very first face transplant at the Mayo Clinic’s hospital.
“When you first do something like this, it’s just a big excitement to finally meet each other just to — I mean, the buildup is just so much,” Sandness said in a video released by the Mayo Clinic. “And then there’s anxiety and pressure.”
Shortly after the incident that left Sandness disfigured in 2006, he became completely isolated from the outside world. It wasn’t until 2012 that Sandness felt a little bit of hope when the Mayo clinic began exploring the possibility of adding a face transplant program. Then, in 2016, Sandness was wait-listed for the procedure.
“I wouldn’t go out in public. I hated going into bigger cities,” he said. “And now I’m just really spreading my wings and doing the things I missed out on — going out to restaurants and eating, going dancing.”
See the tearful meeting between Ross and Sandness in the video below: