BALTIMORE (AP) -- In the 15 years between a shotgun blast that ravaged the bottom half of Richard Norris' face and the face transplant that ended a hermit-like life for him, the man from rural southwest Virginia faced cruelty from strangers, fought addiction and contemplated suicide.
But even if he could go back in time, he's not sure he would erase the accident that left him severely disfigured.
"Those 10 years of hell I lived through, it has given me such a wealth of knowledge," Norris recently told The Associated Press, one of only two news outlets granted interviews since his transplant last year. "It's unreal. It has put some of the best people in my life."
Now, at 38, he's starting a new life: taking online classes in pursuit of a degree in information systems and contemplating a foundation to help defray future transplant patients' everyday expenses during treatment.
He also has been working with a photojournalist who just completed a book about his journey, titled "The Two Faces of Richard."
He hopes his story sends a message of hope to people in similar situations and encourages empathy in others.