Joshua Aversano was twenty-one years old when he was struck by a minivan while crossing the street. The accident claimed his life, but saved six others.
Joshua was an organ donor. But it wasn’t this young man’s heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs and face that saved the lives of the recipients…it was his willingness to give them up. And his family’s willingness to make the hard decisions after Joshua was gone. The majority of the recipients were between 54 -70 years old. The youngest was Richard Lee Norris.
In 1997, a drunken argument took place between Norris and his mother that ended with him accidentally shooting his own face with a shotgun. The incident left him severely disfigured with lots of medical issues that countless reconstructive surgeries couldn’t alleviate. He became reclusive and depressed. He’d only go out at night to avoid any social judgment and started having suicidal thoughts. After Joshua passed away, his parents heard about Richard and decided to donate their son’s face. Norris received a jawbone, teeth, a tongue, muscles, nerves, skin and hair. But he also received much more than that. He got his confidence back and a reason to keep fighting. After thirty-six hours of surgery he is now able to proudly show his face in public. He shaves like anyone else, he breaths like anyone else and is even able to taste again! He will forever be on anti-rejection medication – as his body will always regard the face as a foreign object…but that’s a small price to pay for the beautiful gift he was given.
It was the most complex face transplant in medical history and despite the 50/50% chance of survival, the risky operation has given doctors knowledge and experience that can help treat soldiers and other victims with severe facial injuries.
Fifty-seven year old John Jenkins was also saved by Joshua’s generosity. Jenkins is a retired roofer from Essex and had spent over two years on the transplant waiting list when he got the call that a heart was available. When asked about receiving the vital organ that saved his life, he said:
“Every morning when I wake up, I thank God and the young man who gave me the heart”
The Aversano family should swell with pride and happiness. Their precious son, Joshua, now lives on in six different people. His life hasn’t ended…it’s multiplied.