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Widow meets man given dead husband's face in transplant

Andy Sandness tried to end his life with a rifle in 2006, leaving him disfigured.

Lilly Ross meets Andy Sandness

A grieving young mum has felt her late husband's face again for the first time after it was transplanted to a man who survived a suicide attempt 10 years ago.

Lilly Ross's husband Calen "Rudy" Ross took his own life last year in southern Minnesota while she was expecting their son.

She agreed to donate his organs and body while eight months pregnant.

Lilly was stunned after touching a face she knew so well.
Lilly was stunned after touching a face she knew so well. AP/Mayo Clinic

Sixteen months later she and her son Leonard have met the recipient, Andy Sandness, whose face had been destroyed in his attempt to end his life with a rifle in 2006.

He had lived with a partially rebuilt face that left him with a quarter-size mouth and a prosthetic nose that kept falling off until his 56 hours of surgery at a US clinic.

More than 60 medics were involved in the surgery after doctors at the Mayo Clinic noted the men were a near-perfect match, with similar ages, blood type, colour and facial structure.

Lilly and Calen 'Rudy' Ross met in high school.
Lilly and Calen 'Rudy' Ross met in high school. Lilly Ross

Lilly admitted to Andy she had been "scared" to see him for the first time and was relieved to see his eyes and forehead meant he was no doppleganger of her high school sweetheart.

But she was stunned when she ran her fingers across his beard.

Rudy Ross died while Lilly was in the late stages of pregnancy.
Rudy Ross died while Lilly was in the late stages of pregnancy. Lilly Ross

"The hair even feels like Rudy's hair, it's so weird," she said.

Lilly showed Andy photo albums of happier times with her late partner while introducing her son to him.

Lilly showed Andy photos of cherished moments with her late husband.
Lilly showed Andy photos of cherished moments with her late husband. AP/Mayo Clinic

After a successful first meeting she wants Andy to play a role in Leonard's life so her son can know the man who has his father's face.

"He's pretty much family," she said.

The oilfield electrician said he wants to contribute towards an education trust fund for Leonard.

Lilly wants Rudy's son Leonard to know the man who has his father's face.
Lilly wants Rudy's son Leonard to know the man who has his father's face. AP/Mayo Clinic

He says he's indebted to the Ross family.

"You basically have an obligation now to show them that this has given you everything you ever wanted," he said.

Andy says the transplant has transformed his life.

"You can stand in the elevator and not have to hide your face because you're scared that you're scaring other people," he said.

"Now I'm able to go chew food, go sit down in restaurants. It's been unbelievable."

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