"There's only so much we can do with our hands. The rest is up to the patient," he said, adding that Norris was selected by an expert committee that included psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. "He has done everything exactly as we've asked him to do."
Rodriguez and other transplant surgeons hope to one day extend the use of face transplants to replace numerous reconstructive surgeries in children with disfiguring facial birthmarks, burn victims and wounded warriors.
"I believe that face transplants will eventually become more common, as there are no alternatives that authentically restore our human facial features," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, director of plastic surgery transplantation at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who performed the country's first full-face transplant in 2011.
"Provided that the patients continue to do well, we will likely expand our transplant program to include patients with less severe deformities."
In order to perform more face transplants, however, more people would have to sign up to be donors.
"I imagine that it would be difficult to donate your loved one's face," Rodriguez said, adding that he was amazed at the positive reaction he has encountered so far from donor families.
As a final touching gesture, Norris' donor left the operating room with a silicon replica of his face to cover the defect left after the removal of the face in case the family opted for an open-casket funeral, Rodriguez said.
"We were committed to restoring the integrity of the donor as much as possible," he said.