Richard Norris was shot in the face when he was 22 years old, and was never able to live a normal life until fairly recently, when a plastic surgeon completely reconstructed his face. And he has recently graced the cover of GQ magazine.

Now 39, Norris went from lacking the lower half of his face — his jawline, nose, and mouth completely destroyed by the gunshot trauma — to having a new face transferred onto him. In 1997, Norris was holding a 12-gauge shotgun and somehow blew off half of his face by accident, according to his mother. For 15 years after the incident he lived as a hermit with his parents in rural Hillsville, Virginia.

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center, changed Norris’ life when he chose to complete a complicated face-transplant that lasted 36 hours. Rodriguez and a team of doctors transplanted the face of a 21-year-old man who had died onto Norris', reconstructing his chin, lips, and nose almost to normal. Because the procedure was so risky and new, it was possible that Norris wouldn’t pull through — but he made it alive, and recovered quickly.

Richard Norris
Richard Norris' new reconstructed face is on the cover of GQ magazine. GQ Magazine

Despite undergoing what was a miracle surgery and recovery, Norris faces obstacles moving forward. For 15 years, he was essentially a recluse, unwilling to show his face or talk to strangers; his road to recovery emotionally is still on its way. In addition, all the medical and media attention he’s received since his surgery has branded him as something as a “lab rat” as opposed to a real person, his mother, Sandra, told GQ.

“I don’t think he’ll ever be able to work like in a normal life,” she told GQ. “He spends his time in hospitals, everybody poking and prodding, studying him. A boss don’t want somebody that’s gonna be absent 99% of the time.” He can’t drive due to a risk of seizures. But Norris has been going out more now than he had in the past — and he even has a girlfriend, whom he met online after she saw him on television.