The Virginia man who received the world's most extensive full face transplant to date seven months ago is successfully recovering.

The University of Maryland Medical Center announced Tuesday that Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville who received the transplant during a 36-hour groundbreaking procedure in March, said that the 37-year-old is now primarily eating with his mouth and can also taste and smell.

Norris had suffered a gun accident in 1997 that left him with only a skull, eyes and parts of his jaw. Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the surgeon who led the operation wanted to restore Norris' face "in the most aesthetic manner possible."

"Our goal for Richard from the beginning was to restore facial harmony and functional balance in the most aesthetic manner possible through the complex transplantation of the facial bones, nerves, muscles, tongue, teeth and the associated soft tissues," Rodriguez, who is professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of plastic, reconstructive and maxillofacial surgery at Shock Trauma, said in a release from the university.

The surgery included the replacement of teeth, tongue, skin and both jaws, as well as underlying nerve and muscle tissue from scalp to neck.

"For the past 15 years I lived as a recluse hiding behind a surgical mask and doing most of my shopping at night when less people were around," Norris said in the release.

"I am now able to walk past people and no one even gives me a second look," he said. "My friends have moved on with their lives, starting families and careers. I can now start working on the new life given back to me."

Norris says that he now spends his time fishing and golfing. While he still attends physical and speech therapy sessions, he has made great improvements and has now regained his speech and can smile and show expression.

"Richard is exceeding my expectations this soon after his surgery, and he deserves great deal of credit for the countless hours spent practicing his speech and strengthening his new facial muscles," Rodriguez said. "He's one of the most courageous and committed individuals I know."

The university is currently in the process of expanding its facial transplant program to help more patients, like veterans injured in action.