How surgeons performed 26-year-old man's face transplant procedure: Part 5

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez's team worked in side-by-side operating rooms at NYU Langone Health in New York to complete the face transplant on Cam Underwood.
7:34 | 11/17/18

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Transcript for How surgeons performed 26-year-old man's face transplant procedure: Part 5
and 20% off cozy gifts. Weekend Deals only at Target. January 5th, 2018. As they arrive at nyu Langone medical center, an unplanned and highly emotional encounter in the lobby with will's mother, Sally. Welcome to New York. Thank god for you. I'm so happy you're -- are you mom? Oh, my god. Thank you. What did she say to you? She's thanking us. Giving this gift to us and then thanking us. Thank you for letting my son live on. You have no idea what this means to me. You have no idea what this means to us. I don't think I would have survived will's death had it not been for Cameron and his family. It was very difficult because no matter the condition of my son, I still had my son. She's lost her son. You're going to meet again. You'll see him on the other side. Reporter: Here's what will happen next. In one O.R., doctors will remove the lower portion of will's face, extracting what they need. Will's facial muscles, nerves, jaw and teeth. In the other O.R., doctors will prep cam, removing the scarred, damaged portions of his face. Only to be replaced with wills. The requisite parts of two once handsome strangers that together will become one new man. Often people think it's just like putting on a mask. It's not that simple. Reporter: It's 6:00 A.M. As Bev kisses cam goodbye and he is wheeled into surgery. A team of more than 100 is ready to go in side by side operating rooms. What did you have to do to make this face transplant work for cam? The face needs to fit like a puzzle, and that's a tricky thing. Reporter: That preparation alone takes more than 12 hours. The actual facial reconstruction will take just as long. We prayed for those doctors throughout the night. They're pulling an all nighter. None of them are leaving. No sleep around the clock. Standing over in that operating room for 25 hours straight? It's hard to believe. But, there's so much adrenaline pumping through your bloodstream. Those hours go by like that. This has to not only look like a Normal face but to work like a Normal face. Reporter: But in the lead up to those transformational overnight hours, one remarkable part of the process cannot be overlooked. There are 3D masks that you actually create -- Yes. -- For you do for the donor. What is it and how and why is it done? A mask for the donor? When we remove the face, there's no wound to close. We have an open cavity, and that's very difficult for members of our team and our staff and our nursing in the operating room to see that individual leave the operating room with gauze throughout their face. And we are very fortunate that we have incredible technology right here on our campus at nyu where we can take 3D photography and that can be printed into a high fidelity 3D mask, which is an exact replica of the donor. Reporter: It's a comfort to the donor's family too. It was nice after he had been declared dead that, even though it was only me that saw him with the mask, that I could see him. I hope that people will realize, for people who wanna have open viewings and open caskets and that kinda stuff, I mean, it looks just like will. Reporter: Dawn arrives. More than 21 grueling hours have elapsed. When Dr. Rodriguez waits for the critical moment in every transplant he's ever done. Will the blood return to the face? Everything is pink. So at this point, I'm feeling pretty good. Reporter: Blood is flowing, everything is working. A few hours later, 8:50 A.M., it's a bona fide medical marvel. I had prayed for that miracle every day for a year, and my son had a nose and he had a mouth and he had teeth. And it was just a happy moment. When you feel comfortable I want you to look at yourself I remember the first time I saw myself after the transplant. And what was that like? Wow. That that was breathtaking, and I was just blown away. You know? Relieved and excited all you know, at the same time. Can you walk us through what you got from will and what you were able to keep? Which brings us back to where we started. Only this time, cam is ready for his close up. This is cam's new face. So it starts right here, and it goes down. The eyes are mine, and then everything under is will's. So that's all will, and then will's jaw and lower and upper jaw is his. Is that will's facial hair then, technically? Technically, yes. You should be able to feel 9 vibrations. Do you see a combination of the former you and will together? A little bit. You know? I just see it as mine. Reporter: These pictures show cam's remarkable progression. Ten incredible months of healing. What about everything else, in terms of like breathing, smiling, all the things that faces do to make it work? I can breathe you know, though my nose, and through my mouth and smiling, you know. I can smile. I am shy. I am shy. I first met cam in speech therapy last summer. 'Cause you know what you wanna say, and not being able to make your body say it. I mean I'm impressed. It's a lot a lot of work to teach yourself how to talk again with a new mouth, and new teeth, and lips, and it's just like a baby trying to learn how to talk. Part of the recovery has been extensive dental work. And you can see now, that his teeth are fitting perfectly. It's miraculous! You've come a long way even since I've met you a couple months ago, and I remember then you told me you hadn't eaten for so long. I want pizza. Pizza? And I want a burger. I haven't had a burger yet. You want a burger? You forget how great it is to just actually be able to eat? Just to let it sit in your mouth, and taste it, you know? All those little things that we take for granted that you know, that you miss and you want back. Reporter: Back home, cam has been able to get other pieces of his old life back. Playing golf. Having a catch. He has even gone skydiving! As great as it is, he admits there are still tough days. Remember, this was once a suicidal young man. Do you still struggle with depression? Yeah. Occasionally, it's not a daily fight anymore, but yeah, there are still days when you know, I feel depressed. Reporter: But he says he knows to ask for help now when he needs it, whether that means at church or at home. I just want people to know that it can happen, you know? That if you're in the same kind of situation that I was in, there's people out there that can help you and will. You just have to reach out. What are your hopes for the future now, cam? That I can get back to work and you know, eventually I want a family and kids. You know, the American dream I guess. And now you really do have a full life ahead of you. Yes, I do.

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