Cameron Underwood, who underwent a rare face transplant, showed off his new smile at NYU’s Langone Medical Center in Midtown Thursday.
Underwood, 26, from Yuba City, Calif., suffered from depression and shot himself in the face on June 26, 2016. He survived but the bullet destroyed most of his lower jaw, nose, and every tooth except for one.
His mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, read about Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who performed a similar face transplant on Patrick Hardison.
“We knew he was the only person to whom we could trust Cameron’s life,” Underwood’s mother said. “We were willing to travel the long distance.”
A 100-person medical team took 25 hours to perform the ground breaking procedure on Jan. 5. He’s the second face transplant done at NYU Langone Health. More than 40 have been accomplished worldwide.
Underwood’s case set several medical records, according to hospital officials.
He underwent the transplant close to 18 months after his attempted suicide, the shortest period from when the injury occurred.
“Cameron has not lived with his injury for a decade or longer like most other face transplant recipients have,” Rodriguez said. “As a result, he has not had to deal with many of the long-term psycho-social issues which often lead to issues like severe depression, substance abuse, and other potentially harmful behaviors.”
Additionally, Underwood only had to wait six months for a donor.
Will Fisher, 23, an aspiring writer and filmmaker, was a great match. Fisher, from Manhattan, suffered from mental illness and died suddenly on Jan. 5, his family said.
“Being a part of this experience has been a source of strength for me during a very difficult time,” said Fisher’s mother, Sally.
On Thursday, Underwood thanked the medical team and his donor.
“I will always honor Will’s legacy,” he told reporters. “I’d like to say that there have been so many amazing advances in surgery. I’m living proof of that. But it only happens because of special people like Will and his family.”
The cost of most face transplants in the U.S. have been covered by research grants. But much of Rodriguez’s procedure and care is being covered by insurance he has through his job.
“Securing coverage for Cameron’s medical care, for both his face transplant and his continuing aftercare, illustrates how this field is moving closer toward an accepted standard of care.” said G. Leslie Bernstein, administrator for the face transplant Pprogram at NYU Langone Health.
Underwood faces some additional medical hurdles and must take anti-rejection medication for his entire life. He also is undergoing speech therapy and orthodontic care.