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P.O. Box 141
Hillsville, VA 24343
HILLSVILLE, Va. (WHSV) -- One's man willingness to undergo a first of it's kind surgery is giving him the chance to live the life he wanted, while helping wounded warriors. Richard Norris became disfigured after a gun accident in 1997. For 15 years, Norris stayed inside worried about what people would do if they saw him. But today Norris is holding his head high, hoping to make a difference in the lives of others.
Photographs can capture all the wonderful memories we have in life; graduation, little league games, and holidays with the family. But for Rodney Billings some memories of the last 15 years he'd like to forget; the pain and suffering endured by his friend Richard Norris.
"You just think that it is all over and you have lost someone you cared about and you grew up with. And seeing him in the hospital the day after it happened, you just assumed you were there to say goodbye," says Billings.
September 10 1997 changed Richard's life and those who knew him. Richard went to fix a gun that had fallen inside the family's gun cabinet, causing the gun to go off in front of his face. He lost his nose, jaw, and tongue. It was a miracle he even survived through the night; the longest 24 hours for his mother, Sandra.
"The last time I went in to see him at night I told him, I said he is going to make it, I know he is going to make it. And I am going to fight every step of the way", says Sandra Norris.
Home turned into a safe sanctuary for Richard; the only place he felt accepted.
"You go out in public and people were scared. I have seen people stare so hard they walk into a pole. That is what you call karma," says Richard Norris.
15 years spent behind a mask. With every surgery there was hope he would one day live a normal life, but sometimes hope seemed so far away.
"They kept doing surgeries on him. The first surgery, they took part of his hip bone and made him a chin, he didn't have a nose so they brought this down to try and make a nose. I got tried of the band-aid surgeries," says Sandra.
Miles away a team of doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center worked to find a surgery able to help wounded warriors who suffered injuries from an I.E.D blast, a similar traumatic injury like Richard's says medical team member Doctor Branko Bojovic. 36 hours later, a millisecond compared to the 15 years of suffering, the world first comprehensive face transplant was complete.
The surgery was a success, transforming Richard to the young man proud to hold his head up high.
"I use to say why me all of the time, and now I start saying why not me. I wouldn't want nobody else to carry my burden, I wouldn't want you to go through what I went through," says Richard.
Richard is going back to school to get a degree in information systems, and going out with friends and family in public; enjoying many of the things we take for granted.
"It kind of reassuring me hey I am normal, I am doing just as well as the next person," says Richard.
As part of his daily routine, Richard passes a picture of a young man hanging in his room. It acts as a memorial to the donor who made his surgery possible, Joshua Aversano.
"It is kind of hard. I love the family to death, they are terrific people, but they lost a son. I am sitting there thinking, about my life is about to change, but yet someone is about to die and it was just hard," says Richard.
It is a constant reminder of the second chance at life he was given. The opportunity to help others and live the rest of his life with happy memories.
"Don't give up hope, just hope the thousnads of little seeds can grow into the size of a tree. Keep that hope, keep that hope alive," says Richard.
Richard is working on a book now, which documents his remarkable transformation. It is available on Amazon.com, and the money will go to a foundation he is working on, to help people who get transplants and wounded warriors.