POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. - Dusty Kirby is doing something he never thought he'd be able to do again: eating a apple.
The real deal.
"This wasn't like apple sauce, this wasn't like a cut up apple,” Kirby says, smiling. “No, I actually picked it up and took a big old bite out of it, it was awesome!"
It’s a big moment because the 32-year old Canton Navy and Iraq War veteran has spent the last decade trying to come back from being shot in the jaw by a sniper. It happened on Christmas Day of 2006. He was pulling guard duty with a Marine unit, when the bullet hit him in the left side of the jaw.
“It took a few teeth out on my left side and then (traveled) about midway through my tongue, taking about a third of that with it. And, about 13 centimeters of my jaw before it blew out here."
The military saved his life, then tried to repair the damage, with about 30 surgeries.
"That went on until I got out in 2012,” Kirby says. “Then in 2012, I just kind of got left with what I had going on."
"I watched him suffer all of the time," says Gail Kirby, Dusty’s mother.
He was left with just 2 teeth for chewing, a misaligned jaw and constant pain.
"Nobody could think of anything else to do,” says Kirby.
So, he came home to Georgia, became a father and grew a beard to cover the scars.
"Eating, talking, just breathing sometimes, everything was made just that much more difficult,” he says.
"You accept it. And you think, that's just the way it's going to be. And you're okay with that."
But that is not the end of Dusty Kirby’s story.
A few months after he was shot, he was invited to a benefit for wounded warriors put on by Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation in New York.
There he met Dr. David Hirsch, a facial plastic surgeon with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Hirsch helped pull together a team of surgeons at Lenox Hill willing to rebuild Dusty’s face and smile at no cost to the veteran.
"I was so ready,” says Dusty. He’d been waiting for 10 long years.
In April 2016, surgeons broke Kirby’s jaw in several places, realigned it and then put it back together.
"As soon as I woke up, I could tell a difference,” Kirby says. “And it was just fantastic. From the word go
With everything being in better alignment, my pain went down, to almost non-existent."
A few months later, he and his mother returned to New York City for round two, getting fitted for dental implants.
"When we were coming out, the doctor told him, 'It's looks like you're going to get all your teeth back. We're going to be able to give you back all your teeth,” says Gail Kirby.
They walked around the city smiling and dumbfounded, she says.
Lenox Hill Hospital captured video of the moment Kirby saw his new smile in the mirror.
"I can't put that into words,” he says “I don't know. It's awesome, every bit of it. It's awesome."
Because Dusty Kirby, finally, feels whole again.
"He's going to be able to best that he can be now, and that's all I ever really wanted for him,” says his mother.
Kirby will return to Lenox Hill Hospital for one final procedure, likely in January of 2017.
The dental surgery team there will create a final set of dental implants, designed to look and feel like the real deal.
For the first time in a decade, Kirby says he recognizes his old face. The one he thought he’d lost all those years ago in Iraq.