Roughly a year and a half after her husband committed suicide, Lilly Ross was able to not only see her husband’s face again, but also feel it
When she reached to touch Andy Sandness’s face, though he was a stranger to her, she couldn’t help but notice the similarities.
Sandness was the recipient of Ross’s husband’s face.
Ten years ago Andy Sandness attempted to end his life, in doing so he destroyed the majority of his face. He was fitted with various prosthetics, but nothing worked well for him. In 2012, the Mayo Clinic started to explore the possibilities of a face transplant program and four years later Sandness was added to the waitlist.
In 2016, Calen “Rudy” Ross, Lilly’s husband, committed suicide. Following Rudy’s death, Lilly donated her husband’s organs. An organization that helps to facilitate organ donations raised the idea of donating Rudy’s face as well.
Sandness’s surgeon, Dr. Samir Mardini, was amazed at the similarities between the men. Their facial structure, age, blood type, and skin color made Sandness a near perfect candidate to receive Rudy’s face.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Lilly wasn’t sure how she’d feel about seeing her husband’s face on another person.
Despite an initial hesitation, Lilly agreed to donate her husband’s face.
Now, a year and a half after a stranger received her husband’s face, she was able to see how she’d react to seeing a stranger with Rudy’s face.
“It looks amazing,” Ross said. “You can see Rudy with the chin because you can’t grow hair in the middle, too.”
Since the extensive 56-hour long surgery, which involved a medical team of over 60 professionals, Sandness has slowly regained his confidence.
“I wouldn’t go out in public. I hated going into bigger cities,” he told the AP. “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.”
The surgery took 56 hours and involved more than 60 medical professionals.
The two recently met for the first time and it was an emotional meeting for both. It was the first time Lilly had seen her husband’s face in nearly two years and it was the first opportunity Sandness had to thank his donor’s widow, face to face.
“I wanted to show you that your gift will not be wasted,” Sandness told Lilly upon meeting her.
The two chatted and looked at old photos of Rudy during their meeting.
Lilly brought her son, Leonard, along to meet Sandness. She was eight months pregnant with Leonard when Rudy committed suicide. She said she wanted to bring Leonard so he could see how his father was able to help a stranger. She added that she hopes her son will be able to meet the recipients of Rudy’s other organs at some point as well.
The two hope to stay in contact and create a lasting friendship. According to the AP, Sandness also wishes to contribute to an education fund for Leonard.
“Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure,” Lilly said.