ROCHESTER, Minn. (KARE/NBC News) – Andy Sandness, the Mayo Clinic’s first facial transplant recipient, is sharing his story to raise awareness of mental health.

“When I first saw it, I’ll never forget just looking in that mirror,” he said recently at the Mayo Clinic’s Transform conference. “Just wow. That’s all I could say, was ‘wow.'”

Sandness is the first person to receive a facial transplant at the Mayo Clinic. He underwent the surgery in 2017. The procedure took 56 hours, roughly 40 surgeons and nurses, and completely changed Sandness’ physical appearance.

He didn’t just talk about the physical. Sandness needed the transplant because in 2006, at 21 years old and battling depression, he shot himself in the face.

“I built up a wall and I wouldn’t let nobody in.” he said during the session at the conference. “And finally it just got to the point where it just exploded and there was no controlling it.”

Sandness has said he immediately regretted the decision to attempt suicide, telling first responders he didn’t want to die. 

He decided to share his story, about the surgery and about mental health, because he hopes it will help someone else who is struggling. 

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