The last person any one of us ever expects to come face to face with is someone who has the face of a dead relative. But that's precisely the experience that Rebekah Aversano went through recently, when she met Richard Norris, the man who received the face of Rebekah's deceased brother in a ground-breaking face transplant.
Rebekah lost her 21-year-old brother Joshua three years ago when he was run over and killed by a minivan. In the aftermath, his family donated Joshua's face to Richard Norris, whose face had been severely damaged in an accident with a firearm in 1997. Norris had undergone dozens of operations to repair the damage with not much success.
However, after 36 hours worth of surgery at the the hands of a team at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, Norris emerged with a new face and met with Rebekah at his home in Virginia to thank her.
This rather touching episode was filmed by 60 Minutes Australia and it's set to be broadcast this weekend:
“We can definitely see our son in him,” Joshua’s mother, Gwen Aversano told CTV. “Some of the facial features would definitely be our son, so we could see similarities, very much so. We are just so pleased we have been able to help him. Even though we had such a tragic loss, we were able to give someone else the benefit of our son.”
It's a remarkable achievement on so many levels, and also raises some interesting questions. What is identity? Can the image you see in the mirror be separated from what exists inside? And what happens to the grieving process in a world where, in some extraordinary way, a loved one can live on?