Mayo's first face transplant patient says thanks to his donor's family

Mayo Clinic's first face transplant patient thanks his donor's widow.
Publish date:
Updated on

There was a tearful meeting in Rochester as the first facial transplant patient in Mayo Clinic's history got a chance to say thanks to the woman who donated her late husband's body tissue. 

Andy Sandness, the recipient of a new face, told Mayo Clinic News Network at the recent meeting with Lily Ross and her toddler: "You can't give enough thanks. You can't give enough money. There's nothing you can do. Except now I can just show them."

Lily Ross admitted she was nervous about what it would be like to see some of her husband's face on another man. 

After the meeting she told Mayo she recognized a place where no hair grows on Andy's face – just like when it belonged to her husband, Rudy. The flushed cheeks and a mole on the nose were also familiar. 

But "Otherwise, I see Andy. I don’t see much of Rude in him," she said.

The backstory

Rudy Ross, who lived in Fulda, Minnesota, was 21 when he killed himself in the summer of last year when Lily was eight months pregnant.

21 was also Andy Sandness' age when he attempted suicide in his native state of Wyoming ten years earlier. 

Sandness now considers putting a rifle under his chin and firing to be a terrible mistake. He lived through it, but it took most of his face off. 

Reconstructive surgery left him with a mouth about the size of a quarter, the Associated Press reports, and a prosthetic nose that often fell off. Sandness pretty much withdrew from society to avoid the stares. 

Since the transplant

Nine Mayo Clinic surgeons spent nearly 60 hours on the operation that transplanted Rudy Ross' face onto Andy Sandness in the summer of 2016. 

The surgery turned out to be a success and in February Mayo and Sandness went public with the results

Now, Sandness tells Mayo, he's eating solid food, he's been promoted at this job, he's going out on dates, and his speech is getting better – though he says there's still some work to do. 

"It makes me extremely happy to know he’s going to be able to do what he wants in life now," Lily Ross said during their meeting at the clinic (there's video here). 

Andy also got to say hello to Ross' son, Leonard, who was born soon after his father's suicide. 

Mayo's news network reports Sandness and Ross plan to work together to promote awareness of both organ donation and suicide prevention. 

Next Up


Duluth woman receives rare double organ transplant in Rochester

Jessica Danielson, 30, is recovering from a very rare double organ transplant at Mayo Clinic. After more than six months of waiting, she received a new heart and liver on Monday. Doctors at Mayo told KARE 11 her lifesaving heart-liver transplant is only seen at the hospital about twice a year.

Medica, Mayo say new insurance model could be trend setter

Health insurer Medica is teaming with the Mayo Clinic on a new insurance program. Mayo says it will be paid based on the health of policyholders as a group, not strictly for costs incurred. The policy is aimed at consumers who lack employer-paid insurance but also fail to qualify for state or federal programs.