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Twin tragedies give survivor a new face

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Associated Press
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OMG: Twin tragedies give survivor a new face
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In this Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016 file photo, former Mississippi firefighter Patrick Hardison, 42, center, views a video showing progression of his face transplant, during a press conference marking one year after his surgery, at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York. Hardison was disfigured while trying to save people from a house fire in 2001. Is replacing a severely disfigured person's face with one from a dead donor ready to be called regular care, something insurers should cover? Mayo Clinic has raised that question by doing the first U.S. face transplant that's not part of research. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Rochester, Minnesota:  He'd been waiting for this day, and when his doctor handed him the mirror, Andy Sandness stared at his image and absorbed the enormity of the moment: He had a new face, one that had belonged to another man.

His father and his brother, joined by several doctors and nurses at Mayo Clinic, watched as he studied his swollen features. He was just starting to heal from one of the rarest surgeries in the world — a face transplant, the first at the medical centre. He had the nose, cheeks, mouth, lips, jaw, chin, even the teeth of his donor. Resting in his hospital bed, he still couldn't speak clearly, but he had something to say.

He scrawled four words in a spiral notebook:

"Far exceeded my expectations," he wrote, handing it to Dr. Samir Mardini, who read the message to the group.

"You don't know how happy that makes us feel," Mardini said, his voice husky with emotion as he looked at the patient-turned-friend he had first met nearly a decade earlier.

The exchange came near the end of an extraordinary medical journey that revolved around two young men. Both were rugged outdoorsmen and both just 21 when, overcome by demons, they decided to kill themselves: One, Sandness, survived but with a face almost destroyed by a gunshot; the other man died.

Their paths wouldn't converge for years, but when they did — in side-by-side operating rooms — one man's tragedy offered hope that the other would have a second chance at a normal life.

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