A multidisciplinary team of surgeons, physicians and other health professionals recently completed a near-total face transplant on a Wyoming man on Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus. The extensive, life-changing surgery will improve the patient’s ability to chew, swallow, speak, breathe and smell. The recipient, Andrew Sandness, is a 32-year-old man from eastern Wyoming whose face was devastated by a gunshot wound at the age of 21. He is doing well.

“I am absolutely amazed at the outcome so far,” says Sandness. “I am now able to chew and eat normal food, and the nerve sensation is slowly improving, too. My confidence has improved, and I’m feeling great – and grateful. I am so thankful to my donor and the donor’s family, and to all of the people who have supported me throughout this process.”

The care team led by Samir Mardini, M.D., and Hatem Amer, M.D., the surgical director and medical director, respectively, for Mayo Clinic Essam and Dalal Obaid Center for Reconstructive Transplant Surgery. The team includes specialists from Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Transplant Medicine, Neurology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Psychiatry, Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Pharmacy, Regenerative Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, Rehabilitation, and Speech and Language Pathology. The team also includes staff from LifeSource, the federally-designated nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and healing lives through organ, eye and tissue donation in the Upper Midwest.

“Mayo Clinic has a long history of specialized teams of experts providing complex care to patients who need hope and healing,” says Dr. Mardini. “This is an extraordinary example of the teamwork, collaboration and compassion that we provide at Mayo Clinic, and I couldn’t be more proud of this team. Andy has been our patient for 10 years. He has worked so hard to prepare for this, and during his entire recovery period, he has been strong, gracious and determined. Andy is an amazing person and so well-deserving of this gift.”

The surgery, which spanned more than 50 hours, occurred in the summer 2016 and involved restoring Sandness’ nose, upper and lower jaw, palate, teeth, cheeks, facial muscles, oral mucosa, some of the salivary glands and the skin of the face (from below the eyelids to the neck and from ear to ear). The surgical team used virtual surgical planning technology and 3-D printing to optimize the aesthetic and functional outcomes of the surgery. Sandness has been recovering in Rochester and likely will return home to eastern Wyoming this month.

“We are grateful that the guiding principles of the Mayo Brothers have endured and shepherded the development of the Reconstructive Transplant program, and for Andy’s dedication to his medical care,” says Dr. Amer. “Throughout the entire journey, we have shared Andy’s concern and sympathy for the donor family who have made this amazing gift possible. Their selfless gift gives hope to so many other people who are living reclusively, have limited function, and are socially isolated due to facial deformities.”

Mayo Clinic announces successful face transplant on Wyoming man