Mayo Clinic's first face transplant patient speaks about mental health: 'Get out there and talk to someone'

It's a story of the miracle of modern medicine, hope, and second chances.

Posted: Sep 26, 2019 6:39 PM
Updated: Sep 26, 2019 8:23 PM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - It's been about three years since Andy Sandness went through a 56 hour surgery to receive a face transplant (plus weeks of healing before viewing the results of the surgery), but Thursday was the first time he has spoken openly and publicly about his mental health struggles.

In 2006, struggling with depression, Sandness shot himself with a rifle. "I built up a wall and I wouldn't let nobody in and finally it got to that point where I exploded and there was no controlling it," he said.

He survived the suicide attempt, but his face was permanently damaged. In 2012, he began working with Mayo Clinic to see if he was a candidate for their newly launched face-transplant program.

He chose to become Mayo's first face transplant patient, after years of research and planning. He was a prime candidate because he was in great physical health, but his mental health was another story. He worked with his psychiatrist in additional to his surgical care team before and after the surgery.

On Thursday, joined by his Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Sheila Jowsey-Gregoire, M.D., and surgical care team leader Samir Mardini, M.D., he shared his transplant and mental health story to a crowd at Mayo Clinic Transform 2019 at the Mayo Civic Center. He received a standing ovation.

"If you are feeling these thoughts and feelings, you just need to get out there and talk to someone. It doesn't matter who it is. It could be your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your family, a counselor. Just somebody needs to know you're feeling this way because nobody knows that," says Sandness.

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