TODAY

TODAY   |  June 28, 2013

Face transplant donor’s mom: It was ‘difficult decision’

When their son, Joshua Aversano, was hit by a van and killed, Randy and Gwen Aversano made the difficult choice to donate Joshua’s face to a man who suffered a disfiguring accident. They talk about their decision, which Randy says was a way to make “something good” happen out of tragedy. NBC’s Ann Curry reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> transplant in history. it happened in baltimore 15 months ago and for the first time the families and doctor involved are sharing their remarkable story with nbc's ann curry .

>> reporter: this is a story of two young men, one richard norris hid from the world for 15 years after a disfiguring shotgun accident. the other, joshua was just emerging into the world, signing up to be a marine wanting to serve.

>> he just had a very loving spirit about him.

>> but randy and gwen say he was just walking across a main road when he was hit by a van.

>> do you have the location of the emergency?

>> joshua was air lifted to the shock trauma center , the same hospital where richard was a patient.

>> the one thing i prayed is please don't let him die.

>> reporter: the doctors told them joshua 's brain injury was too see revere. after they considered with drawing life support , they got a request to donate joshua 's organs. they said yes. then they were asked to donate his face to richard .

>> we felt like this was something he would want to do. out of this tragedy something good could happen.

>> it is one thing to donate your child's organs, but it is an entirely different thing to donate your child's face.

>> it was difficult decision. i know i did tell randy at the time, if i ever saw someone walking around that had joshua 's face, the first thing i would do is give him a big hug.

>> but you didn't know the surgery was going to work.

>> well, it was richard 's only hope.

>> the department of defense funded the experimental face transplant surgery to gain research into helping u.s. troops wounded on the battlefield. richard 's doctor, eduardo rodriguez .

>> what made him perfect for trying to create the kind of science needed.

>> that was the same type of injury our soldiers were experiences in iraq. the result of the ied blast coming from the ground up.

>> the 36 hour surgery, the most extensive face transplant in history would give richard a new life and yield findings that would advance transplant medicine. it also gave a mother who lost a son, a chance to see his face again when she met richard .

>> and did you reach out and hug him?

>> yes, when he came in, yes i did.

>> were you hugging your son.

>> yes, i feel like that part of him was there saying that he was okay.

>> and you can see more on this story tonight on ann curry reports, a face in the crowd. that's at 10:00 , 9:00 central time right here on nbc. incredible story.