Ann Curry Reports   |  June 28, 2013

A Face in the Crowd, Part 1

22 year old Richard Norris is severely disfigured by a shotgun accident. He begins the life of a recluse before meeting a doctor who believes he can change Richard’s life.

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

>> everyone. i'm ann curry . tonight we bring you a story about a second chance. a young man who had lost nearly every hope of the future rose up from this tiny town in rural virginia to make medical history . he would risk everything hoping his sacrifice would help him and many others. tonight you'll meet the man who has been given the most extensive face transplant ever performed. we will not show you overly graphic images, but we will show umages carefully chosen that reveal where medical science is heading and our human capacity for hope and courage. our story begins in rural southern virginia in a mod evidence town called fielddale where richard norris grew up.

>> we called him the campbell soup kid, looked like the campbell soup kid with the fat cheeks.

>> kept people laughing.

>> while six of richard 's childhood friends said he had the face archer yub, his mother sandy, a nurse and father eddie , a truck driver , said he didn't always behive like one.

>> he was into everything. he wasn't afraid to try to do what he wanted to do.

>> he was mischievious?

>> very mischievious, yes.

>> as a teenager in the 1990s richard also had a sensitive side.

>> he'd meet a teenage girl, spill my heart out to richard and he would listen. yeah, he was like a brother.

>> he bonded with his dad in the great outdoors, especially with hunting and fishing .

>> the time for the two of you to be close.

>> we loved deer hunting together.

>> their shotguns were stored in a cabinet at home away from richard and his older sister and brother. after high school , richard worked part-time as a mechanic and volunteered at a local fire station . what did you think his potential was in life?

>> i always thought he'd be a fireman or police officer because he was just that type of person. wanting to help, always there in an emergency.

>> but in september 1997 when richard was 22, he was the one who needed an emergency response. as his parents remember, it richard was in the house with his mom preparing to go out with friends when they noticed the shotgun inside the cabinet was leaning precariously against the glass door.

>> and since it was glass, i was afraid it was going to fall out and break.

>> they say richard went to straighten the gun.

>> what richard was trying to do was open the door real quick, catch the barrel.

>> the shotgun was loaded. it went off blasting up into richard 's face.

>> he was on the floor. i got down with him. i called 911, and he moaned, and said oh, mom.

>> do you remember what you said?

>> i just said oh, lord, help him. don't take him from me.

>> richard was rushed to the hospital where surgeons worked to save his life. he needed a tracheotomy so he could breathe. his dad eddie , who was driving his truck 200 miles away , raced moment as soon as he heard the news.

>> i just couldn't believe. i thought i was going to lose him before i could get home.

>> when eddie arrived in the hospital, richard was in a medically induced coma , his condition grave.

>> when i first seen him, i just went all to pieces. i was angry. i was angry at god. what purpose was this to take my son?

>> some of richard 's friends also hurried to his bedside.

>> it was quite a shock, really something i'll never be able to get rid of.

>> at that point did you know he was going to live?

>> i thought there's no way. no way he'll pull through this. when you're at the end of your rope, you start noding and holding on. that's what this family did.

>> richard 's parents stayed by his side, his dad eddie blaming himself, remembering he used the gun last. he realized maybe he was the one who left the shell in the shotgun.

>> i'll never get over it. it's the worst day of my life. like i lost my best friend , you know. we were like -- we were better than father and son . we were just like close friends .

>> two weeks went by as richard lay in a coma. eddie had to go back to work to pay the bills, but sandra slept in the hospital every night until one morning a nurse woke her.

>> and she said richard 's woke up, and he's had a bath, and he's setting up.

>> richard had survived, but he was now severely disfigured. his jaws, teeth, lips, tongue and nose were gone. the shotgun blast had in effect removed most of his face. he came home eight weeks after the accident.

>> coming back to the house where he had -- where he was shot. it was just hard to walk through that door.

>> and harder on the other side. he couldn't speak?

>> no.

>> he couldn't tell you what we needed?

>> no. he had to write.

>> what was he writing down?

>> the first one was funny. he said i want food.

>> though he was happy to be eating his mom's cooking again, he had lost his sense of taste and smell, and his pain was constant. his parents felt it, too. it's hard to imagine what it must have been for you as parents to see your son's face.

>> i couldn't look at him. when they would change the bandage, i'd have to leave. it was just unreal.

>> all the mirrors in their home were taken down to spare richard from seeing his own face. once he could move around, the man known to his childhood friend as being gregarious and funny would only leave his house wearing a blask mask.

>> people can be so cruel, you know. when he would go out, there were comments and stares.

>> not always behind your back, strangers.

>> the comments were merciless. they called him a monster. even his mask caused alarm.

>> i remember one time we went into the store, and i thought they were getting robbed.

>> and once when sandra was driving with richard , they were stopped by police who pulled guns on them. eventually richard stopped venturing outside during the day and avoided people. it was tough for him to communicate, even with close friends .

>> i was like just shocked. i mean, you don't know what to say to him, and then you didn't understand what he did say.

>> you knew he was frustrated when he tried to respond to you.

>> it must have been pretty tough.

>> if something like that happened to me, i don't think i could make it.

>> richard began a life in the shadows. he retreated from almost everyone he knew and became a recluse. what does it say to you that he had to hide himself, not just from the world, but also from his friends?

>> almost like his desire to live maybe was taken away, and when people get hurt, sometimes they change forever and they never come back. you lose that person. that person's gone.

>> i'm like, wonder what happened to richard . it was like all of a sudden, bam, he was out of your life.

>> weeks turned into months and what would become 15 years of sadness as richard sank no a deep depression, even contemplating suicide. he tried to find a way out, undergoing 30 painful surgeries at a huge cost to his family, but nothing, it seemed, made much difference.

>> i got fed up with these other doctors just doing band-aid surgeries on him and giving him false hope .

>> then finally in 2005 a bold surgeon told richard and his family he believed he could change richard 's life.

>> he put his arm around mow and he said, miss norris, we're going to fix this, and i'll be with you the whole way through it.

>> and it meant risking everything.

>> we didn't really know if it would work, but he was willing to take that