by Kyle Potter
Standing in a stately Mayo Clinic library, Lilly Ross reached out and touched the face of a stranger, prodding the rosy cheeks and eyeing the hairless gap in a chin she once had known so well. "That's why he always grew it so long, so he could try to mesh it together on the chin," she told Andy Sandness, as he shut his eyes and braced for the tickle of her touch on new nerve endings in the face that had been her husband's. Sixteen months after transplant surgery gave Sandness the face that had belonged to Calen "Rudy" Ross, he met the woman who had agreed to donate her high school sweetheart's visage to a man who lived nearly a decade without one…The two came together last month in a meeting arranged by the Mayo Clinic, the same place where Sandness underwent a 56-hour surgery that was the clinic's first such transplant. With her toddler Leonard in tow, Ross strode toward Sandness, tears welling in her eyes as they tightly embraced.
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Context: "Thank you so much." It is a heartfelt message Andy Sandness has been eager to deliver personally ever since becoming Mayo Clinic's first face transplant recipient in 2016. His opportunity finally arrived recently, when he met the widow of his donor, Lilly Ross. She was every bit as eager to see and hear for herself the difference her late husband's gift was able to make in Sandness' life. Watch: Mayo's first face transplant patient meets donor's family.