Before Underwood's 2016 suicide attempt, he was employed as a welder and machine worker in Yuba City, as told by family members in a story this month in People magazine. A Spanish farmer, known as Oscar had an entire face lifted - including jaw, nose, cheekbones, muscles, teeth and eyelids - after a gun accident.
Underwood tried several forms of conventional reconstructive surgery, CNN reports, but those methods could only do so much.
His mother, Beverly Bailey-Potter, read about Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who performed a similar face transplant on Patrick Hardison. "We were willing to travel the long distance".
More than 40 face transplants have been carried out worldwide since 2005.
At a press conference in NY today, Cameron said: "I am so grateful to have a face transplant because it gives me a second chance at life".
On Jan. 5, a team of more than 100 medical professionals led by Rodriguez performed Underwood's face transplant surgery, which took approximately 25 hours to complete.
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During the surgery, the doctor transplanted and reconstructed Cameron's upper and lower jaw, including all 32 teeth and gums.
Underwood spoke out about his transplant less than two months after another transplant patient and suicide survivor, Katie Stubblefield, opened up about her own journey.
With just 18 months between the initial injury and the surgery, Underwood's procedure represented the shortest wait time for a face transplant in the US, said the lead surgeon, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez.
"There was no way we could have ever taken him back to a normal life without a face transplant", the surgeon said. "As a result, he has not had to deal with numerous long-term psychosocial issues which often lead to issues like severe depression, substance abuse, and other potentially harmful behaviors".
Underwood also recovered about twice as fast as most facial transplant patients, spending just over a month recovering in hospital thanks to new 3D planning and printing techniques used in his surgery.
Underwood only had to wait six months after being placed on the organ donor list in July 2017 before a flawless match was found for him.
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The donor was 23-year-old Will Fisher, a chess champion, aspiring writer and filmmaker. Fisher, who registered as an organ donor when he was a teen, gave to more than just Underwood.
Along with giving his face to Underwood, Fisher donated his heart, kidneys, liver, eyes and other tissues after he died suddenly.
"Cameron has his whole life ahead of him - and I love the idea that Willie is helping him have a better life", she said in a statement to NYU. "I don't think I would have survived Will's death if not for Cameron", she said in a statement.
In January, a donor became available, and Underwood travelled 2,800 miles to NY - farther than any other face transplant patient before him - to undergo his groundbreaking operation.
He returned to his California home at the end of March, although he made monthly trips back to NY for follow-ups.
Underwood was discharged from the hospital in mid-February and will remain on anti-rejection drugs throughout his life, but to date has responded well. And he's grateful for this second chance at life - and the medical team and donor who made it possible.
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"Cameron has not lived with his injury for a decade or longer like most other face transplant recipients have", said Rodriguez. "The journey hasn't been easy, but it's been well worth it".