A widow has had an emotional meeting with the man who received her dead husband’s face in a transplant operation.
Lilly Ross met Andy Sandness 16 months after the surgery made possible by her decision to donate her high school sweetheart’s face to a man who had lived for a decade without one.
Mr Sandness had put a rifle below his chin and pulled the trigger in Wyoming in 2006, destroying most of his face.
He withdrew from contact with other people after facial surgery left him severely disfigured – with a quarter-sized nose and a prosthetic nose, which subsequently fell off.
But he was given hope when he made it onto a waiting list for the Mayo Clinic’s face transplant programme in 2016 – and Mrs Ross agreed to donate her husband’s face.
Her husband, Calen, shot himself and died in southwestern Minnesota in 2016.
The two men’s ages, blood type, skin colour and facial structure were such a near-perfect match that Mr Sandness’ surgeon, Dr Samir Mardini, said they could have been cousins.
The successful surgery has allowed Mr Sandness to chew food properly again and helped him win promotion in his work as an oilfield electrician.
Mrs Ross said she had been worried about the meeting bringing back reminders of her husband.
But without the same eyes, forehead and strong cheeks, she was relieved to find Mr Sandness looked quite different.
The pair wept as they hugged for the first time, and Mr Sandness spent time playing with Mr Ross’ son Leonard.
Mr Sandness said he had felt “a lot of emotion” at the meeting.
He said: “You’re happy, at the same time you’re sad because you know that they’ve lost somebody that meant a lot to them.
“So, I guess it’s more of a relief than anything to finally get to know Lilly, meet Leonard and just thank them.
“All you can do is just prove to them that they made the right decision in the donation and just do your best and basically you have an obligation now to show them that this has given you everything you wanted with the donation.”
Mrs Ross said: “With meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure on how everything happened because it just, everything happened so fast and it was just it was hard.
“The thing that makes me most proud of how we went about with this is Leonard being able to see, when he gets older, being able to meet Andy and the other recipients, hopefully.
“And him being proud of what his dad did.”