Andy Sandness didn't want to die—but he didn't realize that until he tried to take his own life on Dec. 23, 2006. The "super, super depressed" 21-year-old Wyoming man had shot himself beneath the chin with a rifle; when police arrived, he begged them to save his life. Doctors did, but Dr. Samir Mardini, the plastic surgeon who worked to reconstruct his face—which was missing a nose, jaw, and all but two of his teeth—over eight surgeries at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., couldn't quite save his face. That is, until June 16, when Sandness became the Mayo Clinic's first face transplant recipient in a 56-hour surgery. Mardini had first broached the possibility with him in 2012, but it wasn't until January 2016, and 50 Saturdays Mardini and his team spent trialing the surgery using cadavers, that Sandness' name was placed on an organ donor waiting list, reports the AP.
The man whose face would become his own was Calen "Rudy" Ross, a 21-year-old Minnesota man who in June 2016 shot himself in the head, leaving behind his eight-months-pregnant wife, who was wary of the transplant idea at first but ultimately consented. Mardini said when the doctors studied Ross' photo, "we got chills when we actually saw how close they were in hair color, skin. It could be his cousin." Three weeks after the surgery, Sandness finally saw his face, and, still unable to speak, wrote, "Far exceeded my expectations." What those expectations had been: a working nose (he wore a prosthesis that regularly fell off), the ability to eat normally (his inch-wide mouth was too narrow for a spoon), and to "get good stares as opposed to bad stares." He knew he had achieved the latter three months after getting his new face, when a little boy in an elevator looked at him—and then glanced away without a second thought. The AP has much more here. (Read more face transplant stories.)