Good Deeds | Uplifting | Health

Grieving Widow Misses Husband's Face, Then She Sees It On Someone Else

Lilly Ross

A  woman reunited with the face of her late husband, following a successful face transplant surgery.

Sixteen months after Andy Sandness' life changing operation, he met with Lilly Ross, the woman who had donated her high school sweetheart, Calen "Rudy" Ross's visage.

The Mayo Clinic arranged a meeting between the pair, the same hospital where Sandness underwent his 56-hour surgery, the Associated Press reports.

Reaching out to touch his cheeks, Lilly saw a hairless spot on his chin, something all too familiar to her.

"That's why he always grew it so long, so he could try to mesh it together on the chin," she said.

In 2006, Sandness survived a suicide attempt when he shot a rifle below his chin. Nearly a decade later, Rudy would shoot himself in southwestern Minnesota, ending his life.

Sandness' injuries left him with a quarter-sized mouth, vision loss, and a prosthetic nose which never stayed in place.

In 2012, the Mayo Clinic began to establish a face transplant program. Four years later, Sandness would be wait-listed for the operation in hopes to gain a higher quality of life.

Five months later, Sandness' doctor phoned him, saying they found a potential match.

Having already donated some her husband's other organs, Lilly was later asked if she would consider donating Rudy's face to a man in need.

Weary at first of the idea of seeing a stranger with her beloved's visage, Lilly consented to the procedure. She said she wanted to the couple's son Leonard know what his father did for others.

"He's a donor, and this is my call - we're going to do it. Because if we could help countless people, why not? That's pretty much why I did it," Lilly said in an interview with Daily Mail.

Dr. Samir Mardini, a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic said Sandness would be the perfect candidate for the medical center's first ever face transplant surgery as the two men were a near-perfect match with similar ages, blood type, skin color, and facial structure.

A year after the surgery, Sandness said his new face has let him live his life to the fullest, and is no longer ashamed of his appearance.

"I wouldn't go out in public. I hated going into bigger cities," he said. "And now I'm just really spreading my wings and doing the things I missed out on - going out to restaurants and eating, going dancing."

Sandness will be on a daily regimen of anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. He goes to therapy to retrain the nerves in his new face, and to has to learn to use his tongue in his new mouth, but he doesn't mind.

“Once you lose something that you’ve had forever, you know what it’s like not to have it,” he said. “And once you get a second chance to have it back, you never forget it.”

For Lilly, meeting Sandness has finally given her peace following the death of her husband.

"Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure," Lilly said. "Everything happened so fast."

Maya has been working at Shared for 10 Months. She just begrudgingly spent $200 on a gym membership. Contact her at maya@shared.com