- Cameron Underwood was 24 when he tried to take his own life with a shotgun in June 2016
- He had battled depression for years and had been drinking all day
- A year-and-a-half later he had surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center’s new face transplant unit
- His donor was 23-year-old Will Fisher, an upcoming filmmaker and writer who studied at Johns Hopkins University
- Fisher died suddenly in January 2018 after a battle with mental illness
A 26-year-old man has undergone a face transplant two years after narrowly surviving an attempted suicide against the odds, a new report reveals.
Cameron Underwood, who battled depression for years, was 24 when he tried to take his own life with a shotgun in June 2016 after drinking all day.
The welder from Yuba City in Northern California was left with barely anything except for his forehead, eyes and tongue, and his parents were told he wouldn’t make it.
Doctors managed to bring him back – and soon after, Cam’s mother Bev Bailey-Potter contacted NYU Langone Medical Center’s new face transplant unit.
Today, two years on, Cam has shared his astonishing progress in an interview and photos with People magazine and ABC News, thanking doctors for giving him a second chance at life.
He also expresses his gratitude to the family of his donor, 23-year-old Will Fisher, described by People as ‘a budding New York City writer and filmmaker’. He became a donor after his ‘sudden’ death following a battle with mental illness on January 5, 2018.
Cam flew directly to New York from California and that night he underwent the 25-hour surgery that changed his life.
‘I remember just a sigh of relief that I had a face again, I had a mouth and teeth again, I had a nose again—just such amazement and joy,’ Cam told People.
‘I couldn’t be more thankful for all the hard work and the sacrifices that were made for me.’
He added: ‘The biggest difference is just being able to go out without a mask and without people staring at me.’
According to the ABC report, screening tonight on 20/20, Cam was athletic, hard-working, and a thrifty saver.
As soon as he graduated high school, he got a job working for his stepfather, and by 19 he got a mortgage on a house.
The next few years were rocky, though.
He and his high school sweetheart separated after years together, and he lost touch with one of his closest friends, which seemed to hit hard.
He started to drink a lot, and recoiled from any of his relatives’ attempts to get him to ease off.
On June 26, 2016, he spent the day hitting the bottle – something that had become commonplace, he tells People and ABC.
But that night he entered a vortex that sucked him further than before, and he thought he should end his life.
He pointed a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger, obliterating his entire face.
It is not clear where Cam was or who found him, but help got to him quickly. He was airlifted to University of California Davis Medical Center, where doctors got to work.
After numerous surgeries he was stabilized, but his face was gone. At first he was in a medically-induced coma, then very heavily drugged for just over a month.
Finally, in August 2016, he was lucid enough to understand what had happened, and to see his face for the first time.
‘When I woke up, I didn’t know what was going on, where I was, what had happened to me,’ he said – adding, painfully: ‘I was shocked that I would actually do something like that, and that I had survived.’
Cam stayed in the hospital until December 2016. Once he was discharged, he wore a mask all the time.
Shortly after he was discharged, his mother Bev heard that surgeons at NYU Langone had performed a face transplant on a former firefighter, Patrick Hardison, who was maimed by a burning roof that fell on him.
She got in touch, and in March 2017 Dr Eduardo Rodriguez took him on, starting the lengthy procedure to get Cam enrolled, including physical screening, psychiatric screening and counseling, and getting him on the transplant list.
Finally, in January this year, he got the bitter-sweet call all transplant hopefuls yearn for: they had a candidate.
Will Fisher, 23, had died in New York City, and he was a registered organ donor.
His mother Sally was consulted as doctors found he would be able to transform multiple lives with his heart, liver, kidneys, eyes – and, of course, his face.
Will, described by his family as wise beyond his years, was just a bit younger than Cam when he died. He had the same skin tone, skull size, hair color, a full set of teeth and the same blood type.
Cam says he knew it was a life-threatening procedure but he never saw it as a choice – it was his only option to reclaim his life.
For Will’s mother Sally, Cam is the one thing that helped her worked through her grief.
She told People: ‘I don’t think I would have survived Will’s death if it wasn’t for Cameron. Cameron’s got his whole life ahead of him — and I love the idea that Willie’s helping him have a better life.’