Fireman Patrick Hardison Gets World’s Most Extensive Face Transplant In 26-Hour Surgery

Cyclist David P. Rodebaugh was only 26 when he was killed in a biking accident. His liver, kidneys, and both eyes were donated to help patients in need. When his mom was contacted about another — a firefighter named Patrick Hardison, whose face was severely burned in a fire in 2001 — she didn’t hesitate.

Her son had always wanted to be a firefighter.

Patrick got a new face this August in a landmark transplant surgery that lasted 26 hours and has become the world’s most extensive, CBS News reported. Three months later, Patrick has passed the scary window in which his body is most likely to reject the transplant and despite a bit of swelling, is doing well.

The most emotional moment for Patrick’s doctor, Eduardo Rodriguez, came when Patrick went out in public with his new face for the first time.

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“We had a remarkable exchange when our staff took him to Macy’s to buy clothes and nobody stared at him… It was very emotional for us.”

For 14 years, Hardison hadn’t been able to venture outside without calling attention to himself. In his hometown, parents stared and children asked questions (he told them he fought a bear). Those days are now over.

It all began in 2001 in Hardison’s native Mississippi. On September 5, the 27-year-old, seven-year veteran volunteer firefighter responded to a blaze in Senatobia. A woman was trapped inside, and he rushed in to search for her. The roof collapsed, knocking off his helmet, and he felt his mask melting, the Washington Post added. So he closed his eyes and jumped out the window.

Patrick’s injuries were extensive. He suffered third-degree burns on his head, neck, and upper torso. He lost his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose, and his hair. Because he couldn’t blink, doctors used skin grafts to reinforce the remainder of his eyelids and practically sewed them shut, leaving him with pinhole vision.

Dr. Rodriguez said Patrick’s face was “one huge scar.”

A church friend of Patrick’s wrote to Rodriquez, who’d done face transplant in 2012, and the doctor agreed to put him on a waiting list. Then they waited for a donor — someone who matched Hardison’s biological traits, skin and hair color. After Rodebaugh was killed, he was matched to Patrick as a potential donor through a nonprofit called LiveOnNY.

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Hardison was grateful to David’s family.

“I am deeply grateful to my donor and his family. Even though I did not know who they would be, I prayed for them every day, knowing the difficult decision they would have to make in order to help me. I hope they see in me the goodness of their decision.”

The face transplant surgery took place in August at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, and it was unlike any face transplant performed before. None of the previous surgeries were as complex as Patrick’s, which involved a lot of tissue. And so, doctors practiced. When the day of Hardison’s transplant came, they were able to overcome every obstacle.

The extent of Patrick’s face transplant is incredible. It extends from the top of his head, over his skull, and down to the collarbone, fitting Hardison like a hood. The transplant includes the scalp, ears, ear canals, bone from the chin and cheeks, and a new nose. His eyelids were also replaced, and doctors were able to repair the muscles that control blinking. The seam of the face transplant runs down the back of Patrick’s skull.

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And the hospital covered the cost of Hardison’s surgery, which is estimated to have cost up to $1 million.

For now, Patrick is still in recovery and undergoing physical therapy — the remaining swelling is expected to go down and Hardison should be back to Mississippi for Thanksgiving.

Patrick, a father of five, has a whole new life. He’ll be able to see again and is looking forward to driving. He won’t however, be able to work as a firefighter, though he has his eye on another career — motivational speaker, maybe for wounded vets. His message for them is a simple one: “there is hope.”

[Photo by Uncredited Associated Press photographer]