Man Meets Widow of Man Who's Face He Received During 56-Hour Transplant Surgery


Andy Sandness and Calen Ross were both troubled individuals. Though they never met, their shared despair would unite the two in an unlikely way.

Sandness attempted to take his life in 2006. Ross did the same a decade later.

Ross succeeded in his attempt and left behind a pregnant wife. In 2006, Sandness survived his rifle wound, but it cost him most of his face.

The wound left Sandness ashamed. He rarely went out in public and was devastated any time he glanced in a mirror.

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Surgeries made Sandness’ face bearable, but hardly aesthetically pleasing. He prosthetic nose would often fall off, and his mouth was only about the size of a coin.

In 2012, though, things started to look up for Sandness. He heard about an experimental face transplant surgery the Mayo Clinic was trying.

Sandness enrolled in the program and was wait-listed in 2016. Hundreds of miles away, Ross’ wife was deciding what to do with her husband’s remains.

Lily Ross had already decided to donate her husband’s organs when she received an odd request. LifeSource, a local nonprofit, asked if she would be willing to donate her husband’s face to a man who was awaiting a transplant.

Although Lily worried about how she’d react to seeing her husband’s face on another man, she obliged. She wanted to be able to tell her son that some good came out of his father’s death.

Fifty-six hours of surgery later, Sandness had his new face. It provided much-needed functionality but also gave him the courage to finally get out and see the world.

For the most part, Sandness kept to himself the decade after the gunshot wound took off his face. Dr. Samir Mardini, one of the members of Sandness’ medical team, was surprised and delighted to find that his patient wasn’t the introvert he thought he was.

“I wouldn’t go out in public. I hated going into bigger cities,” Sandness 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.”

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Sixteen months later, Lilly Ross confronted her fears and met Sandness for the first time. She was worried that the sight of her husband’s face would send her down a dark path, but her reaction was quite the opposite.

Instead of seeing the husband she lost, Lily saw a man whose life was drastically improved. It helped her to see what a positive effect her husband’s death had on at least one individual.

“It made me proud,” Lily said. “The way Rudy saw himself … he didn’t see himself like that.”

Now she can show her son at least one man whose life has changed as a result of his father’s devastating actions. “Meeting Andy, it has finally given me closure,” she said.

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