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5 years after surgery, face transplant recipient shares his story

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Posted at 7:52 AM, Apr 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-18 07:52:44-04

An Indiana man who was one of the first in the world to receive a face transplant is speaking out.

It’s been nearly five years since we’ve heard from Mitchell Hunter.

He was badly burned after rescuing a woman from a car accident.

Now that he’s had a face transplant, he feels like his own life has been rescued.

“I feel just as healthy as I did when I was 21, and I feel great, he says.

At 35, he now has a full-time job and is able to take his son to the movies. All things he wouldn’t have thought possible after that tragic night in 2001 in North Carolina.

“People tell me that I’m fortunate that I don’t remember, because it’s probably a lot of pain,” he says.

That night, the car he was in slammed into an electrical pole.

Hunter, a former soldier, pushed a woman to safety, but he wasn’t as lucky. He took a zap of 10,000 volts for nearly five minues.

That shock took his leg and face.

To some, it might be the end, but to Hunter, it was only the beginning.

“I look back on it as something that made me stronger. I mean, yeah, I’d like to have my leg and face back, but without that happening, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” he says.

He had facial work, but it made life difficult.

“Imagine walking into a room and falling and everybody noticing. That’s how it was every time I walked in a room because of the way my face looked,” he says.

It all changed in 2011 when Hunter became one of the first people in the world to be given a new face by a donor – a gift that has forever altered his life.

“It’s a lot easier to go out in public, I will tell you that,” he says.

Gone are the stares and the names. Instead he’s faced with new challenges, like how long his facial hair should be.

“When I touch the beard, I can also feel the sensation under the skin.”

Those are feelings that he’d much rather have than the depression he felt after the accident.

“I think it’s an amazing journey. I mean, it’s been a hard journey,” he says.

After years of silence, he hopes others don’t keep quiet, especially since he knows how quick life can change.

“I would like to tell people just not to worry about the small things, live life. Tell the people you love, that you love them because you never know when that can be taken away.”

Mitchell’s medical treatments aren’t over. He still has to travel to Massachusetts twice a year to get work done. He was scheduled to go in May, but being a big motorsports fan, he told doctors it will have to wait because he’s not missing the 100th running of the Indy 500!