Mental health problems are rife in today’s society, and a number of issues prevent people from seeking out the help they need. This could be a fear of opening up about their struggles due to social stigma, or financial limitations which prevent them from accessing help.
In 2006, Andy Sandness from Wyoming shot himself in the face in a failed suicide attempt. He was left to suffer in a way he could have never imagined after losing his nose and jaw, and spent 10 years living a life blighted by the fact that he had no face.
Andy was immediately consumed by regret the moment he pulled the trigger during his suicide attempt – a decision which was prompted by depression. When the authorities arrived, he said, “Please, please don’t let me die! I don’t want to die!”
He is pictured below before his tried to end his own life.
Suicide is one of the biggest killers of men under the age of 50 in the Western world, and another man’s tragic death ended up changing Andy’s life for the better when his widow agreed for his face to be donated to Andy.
The man in question was 21-year-old Calen ‘Rudy’ Ross, pictured below. He too had suffered from depression before he took his own life in 2016 – five hundred miles away from where Andy had attempted to end his life a decade earlier.
Tragically, Rudy’s wife then 19-year-old wife Lilly was eight months pregnant at the time of his death, and she was faced with the heartbreaking task of planning her high school sweetheart’s funeral and having a baby.
Prior to his death, Rudy had registered as an organ donor, and his wife gave her blessing to doctors who wanted to carry out a groundbreaking face transplant so that 32-year-old Andy could lead a normal life again.
The transplant was carried out at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and that was where Lilly and Andy eventually met 16 months after the procedure was carried out. They decided to meet in the clinic’s library.
The face transplant took a gruelling 56 hours to complete.
The moment Lilly saw Andy, she was overwhelmed by emotion. The two strangers who had been united by an extraordinary procedure then sat down together, and Lilly touched he face that had belonged to her husband.
Prior to this operation, doctors had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to reconstruct Andy’s face. They even made him a fake nose which frequently fell off. This left them with no option but to conclude that he needed a face transplant.
“Now I’m able to eat food finally, [and] my speech is better,” Andy said of the life-changing transplant. He’s even gotten a promotion at work thanks to the increased confidence it’s give him, and he’s started dating again.
Speaking about the how the transplant has changed Andy’s life, Lilly said, “It made me proud,” she said of 32-year-old Andy. “The way Rudy saw himself… he didn’t see himself like that.”
The procedure’s success was helped by the fact that the two men were a perfect match in terms of facial structure and skin tone.
“It’s a lot of emotion,” Andy said. “[I’m] happy, but at the same time I’m sad because [I] know they’ve lost somebody that meant a lot to them. I guess it’s more of a relief than anything to get to finally get to know Lilly [and] meet Leonard and just thank them.”
Andy, however, was not the only person Rudy helped in death. A number of his other organs including were donated to people in need. Lilly has reached out to all of them so that her son Leonard can on day learn how many people his dad saved.
“I’ve been in contact with the liver recipient, I’m friends with the heart recipient on Facebook,” Lilly said. “There’s one guy who got a kidney and a pancreas, we haven’t heard anything from him yet; another lady got a kidney, I believe, and then we’ve not been in contact with the lung recipient. But I sent everybody letters around the same time, they all got pictures.”
“I knew what needed to be done, and I just did what needed to be done.”
You can watch Lilly and Andy’s incredible meeting below:
Organ donation doesn’t just save lives, it transforms them. Tragically, many people die whilst waiting on a suitable donor, so when people are lucky enough to find one, it feels like a second chance at life, and they live it to the fullest.
When this Maryland teen finally got a heart transplant, he couldn’t contain his joy and began to dance:
We hope that Rudy and Andy’s incredible story inspires other people to become organ donors.
If you or someone you know is considering ending their own life, please contact the Samaritans.
You can register to be an organ donor in your state here.