Ann Curry Reports   |  June 29, 2013

A Face in the Crowd, Part 4

Richard’s face transplant goes ahead. After 36 hours Dr. Rodriguez and his team complete the historic surgery.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> 15 years after a shotgun accident left him so disfigured he hid from the world, richard was finally getting a second chance. he was about to undergo the moment extensive face transplant ever attempted. he left his virginia home with his mom. his dad was too sick to travel so richard said good-bye knowing he might not see him again.

>> he could die.

>> he could die, and i told richard , you don't have to do this. we love you just like you are. and he said i'm not going to go through life like this. whatever you do, we'll be behind you.

>> when richard arrived at baltimore shock trauma center , cynthia offered him a last chance to back out.

>> i said richard you tell me right now if you don't want to do this. everything stops right here, right now. it will not change the way any of us feel about you. it will not change the care that the doctors here provide for you. i want you to think about this.

>> what did he say?

>> he said no. he said let's go. i'm here. i want to do this. i said this could be the last conversation you and i ever had. he said i know. but if i do die, he said i want to donate everything, everything.

>> to help other people.

>> to help other people.

>> so you said good-bye.

>> mm-hmm.

>> and he said take care of mom. i was like okay.

>> heavy.

>> yeah.

>> mm-hmm.

>> heavy.

>> he said i don't want to be a burden all my life on y'all.

>> heavenly father.

>> his mom prayed. so did dr. rodriguez . then it was time for dr. rodriguez to scrub in.

>> we're going to talk about what's going to happen here.

>> this video documenting the historic operation shows some of the nearly 150 medical personnel, including anesthesiologists, nurses and o.r. technicians who are prepared to work around the clock. the surgery got under way in two operating rooms side by side .

>> maybe it's here.

>> in one, dr. rodriguez and his o.r. team began removing joshua 's face. in the other room a second team began removing richard 's. with all your experience as a human being , realizing what you were doing, how much fear was there in you as you were doing the procedures?

>> certainly fear, no question, and tension.

>> cynthia helped coordinate the surgery and had to be on top of every detail.

>> personnel, equipment, supplies, down to sutures.

>> in joshua 's room everything was going according to plan, but in richard 's operating room there was a problem.

>> when working on -- on richard 's face, very different than on the donor face.

>> richard 's surgeons had to contend with the scar tissue from his previous surgery.

>> you're basically going through adherent tisssue which is almost like cement.

>> if not careful the surgeons could cut critical blood vessels or nerves.

>> so it took a lot longer than expected.

>> and the clock was tick. by now joshua 's face was already removed. rodriguez feared it might not stay viable much longer h.yknew if they didn't transplant it on to richard 's face in time, the surgery would be a failure.

>> this must have created a lot of tension in the room.

>> correct.

>> so dr. rodriguez , who had been working in joshua 's room, joined the surgeons in richard 's o.r. to help finish removing richard 's face. working against the clock they transplanted joshua 's face bones. finally after 23 hours dr. rod get connected the major blood vessels . this was the critical moment .

>> there's no going back now. this thing doesn't work. if this doesn't work we're going to be in deep trouble. it will be either our proudest moment or biggest failure.

>> complete silence in the room. we were waiting for the blood flow to pink up the face.

>> and then seconds later they watched it happen. blood began to flow through joshua 's face which was now richard .

>> once those lips became pink it was a glorious moment. there was also applause in the room that we had almost made it.

>> it was the most amazing thing i had ever seen.

>> there was a sigh of relief.

>> the history-making surgery was over after 36 hours . richard had survived and with a new face.

>> you did it.

>> looks great.

>> the exhausted surgical team celebrated, but the person whose opinion had mattered most of all had yet to see the results. when richard awoke, the moment would come for dr. rodriguez to hand him a mirror.

>> you must have been nervous.

>> yes, of course. it was probably one of the most emotional moments for me and for all of us in that room.

>> richard tells us his reaction in his first television interview.