BALTIMORE (AP/WJZ) — The University of Maryland Medical Center’s trauma center on Saturday celebrated a gift that transformed the lives of six people and made possible the most extensive full-face transplant yet.

Rochelle Ritchie has the story of one man whose transplant made national news.

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It’s a remarkable story of strength and courage. On Saturday night, for the first time in more than a year, we heard from the man who had a face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The annual fundraising gala paid tribute to Joshua Aversano, a 21-year-old White Hall man who died in March 2012 after he was hit by a van. Aversano’s heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and face were donated to six patients.

Richard Norris, 37, made history after receiving the first face transplant of its kind in the world.

“To the heroes who stand behind us, thank you,” Norris said at the gala.

In 1997, Norris was accidentally shot. He lost his lips, nose and much of his upper jaw.

“You can walk outside your front door and your life can be changed in a split second,” he said.

For 15 years he lived hidden from the world behind a mask until doctors at the University of Maryland turned his life around last year by giving him a new look on life.

“It’s the first transplant of its time,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez. “It’s the most extensive and most comprehensive face transplant performed to date.”

In a 36-hour surgery, doctors replaced his nose, skin, teeth, lips and jaws–making it easier for Norris to finally face the world.

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At the annual R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Gala, Norris told the room of nearly 2,000 people that life is good.

“Thank you for the years spent preparing to give me a new life,” Norris said.

He is still recovering from his surgery and undergoing therapy. His message to the young man who donated his organs is this:

“We thank you Joshua. We will always be grateful to you and your family for this gift of life,” he said.

The event, part of a campaign to support Shock Trauma’s new critical care tower, also honored 90 others — from the EMS workers and Shock Trauma staffers who worked to save Aversano’s life, to the teams who later coordinated and performed the transplants.

Aversano’s family is still adjusting to life without him.

“The past year has been very difficult for our family as we adjust to the loss of Joshua in our lives,” the family said in a statement. “We are grateful Joshua’s legacy continues through the lives of the individuals he was able to save with gifts of organ and tissue donation.”

John Jenkins, 57, of Essex, received a new heart from Aversano. The former commercial roofer spent 26 months on the transplant list before getting the call to head to the hospital for surgery.

Now, he can get around the house better and do more with his grandsons.

“Every morning when I wake up, I thank God and the young man who gave me the heart,” he said in a telephone interview.

Jenkins said he is familiar with the loss Aversano’s family is dealing with, after losing his own son in a motorcycle crash 18 years ago. That experience prompted him to register as an organ donor, never knowing he’d be a recipient of a donated organ himself one day.

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