After a difficult and often lonely 10 years, Andy Sandness received a face transplant in June 2016 and with it, got his life back. Now, months after his surgery, Sandness is revealing his new face to the world and the transformation, as well as the story of how he got there, is incredible.
It was two days before Christmas in 2006 and Sandness, a lifelong outdoorsman, felt as though he had reached his final breaking point. He’d been depressed and one night after work he grabbed a rifle from the closet and stared at it for a while. He then put a round in the chamber, positioned the barrel underneath his chin and pulled the trigger. Immediately after that moment, he realized he had made a terrible mistake. When authorities arrived to his home in eastern Wyoming, he pleaded, “Please, please don’t let me die! I don’t want to die!”
Miraculously, Sandness survived the suicide attempt, but his face was left terribly disfigured as a result. Sandness had lived, but the condition of his face left him lonely and subject to uncomfortable stares when out in public. Hope came when he met Dr. Samir Mardini, a plastic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic who is an expert in facial reconstruction. Dr. Mardini promised Sandness he would reconstruct his face to the best of his ability and performed a series reconstructive surgeries over the course of years. But progress was difficult to see and Sandness endured a solitary existence.
But in 2012, Sandness’ life changed when he received a phone call from Dr. Mardini, who told him that the Mayo Clinic had was likely to launch a face transplant program and that he could be an ideal candidate. Three years passed until the program was approved and Sandness had to undergo rigorous psychological and medical testing to prove that he would be able to participate. Finally in January 2016, Sandness was placed on the transplant list, although he was warned he would likely have to wait at least 5 years until he found the right match. Five months later, Calen ‘Rudy’ Ross fatally shot himself in the head and his family agreed to go ahead with the organ donation.
The complex and strenuous 56-hour surgery, which had been rehearsed once a week for over three years, required a team of 60 doctors. But it was a success and just three weeks after the surgery, Sandness was given a glimpse of the results and, still unable to use his mouth, wrote on a piece of paper that it “far exceeded my expectations.”
Watch Andy Sandness’ incredible medical journey in the video below.