A Stunning Face Transplant Gave This Former Firefighter His Life Back

Former firefighter Patrick Hardison’s life changed forever back in 2001.

The Mississippi firefighter was severely burned in the line of duty and lost most of his facial and head features.

One year ago he underwent the most extensive face transplant in history at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.

The surgery was a success with the doctors hailing his recovery as ‘unprecedented.’ His story gives hope to future patients with similar injuries.

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Despite his recovery, what happened is unforgettable.

Back in September 2001, Hardison and three other firefighters were performing a rescue search during a house fire in Mississippi when the ceiling collapsed on top of them.

Despite surviving by holding his breath to protect his lungs, Hardison was left with severe third degree burns on his face, head, neck, and upper torso. The accident destroyed his ears, lips, most of his nose, and almost all of his eyelid tissue. There was almost nothing left of his face with the exception of scar tissue.

2015 was when he finally got hope. After years in the hospital getting treatments, including over 70 procedures, a team of 100 surgeons and medical professionals led by Eduardo D Rodriguez, the chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, performed a face transplant on Hardison that was more extensive than anything ever attempted.

They succeeded.

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Due to the extent of Hardison’s injuries, the team had no frame of reference, so they instead utilized advanced 3D modeling and 3D-printed cutting guides to match Hardison with the donor organs.

The initial results were already dramatic, but after a year of recovery and several follow-up operations to adjust Hardison’s new eyelids and lips; removal of his abdominal feeding tube and tracheal breathing tube; revisions to his forehead, eyes, lips, chin, and ears, he is now able to engage in previously impossible activities, such as swimming and driving.

Rodriguez said:

“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery, which has surpassed all of our expectations. Most significant is the lack of a rejection episode. We believe this has much to do with the methodical approach we took in the matching process to ensure that Patrick’s donor provided the most favorable match. Doing so also has allowed us to reduce the levels of certain medications that Pat takes to prevent rejection.”

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Rodriquez says that Hardison now has normally functioning eyelids, which not only dramatically improved his appearance, but has also saved his vision by allowing him to blink to moisten and cleanse his eyes. Rodriguez believes this a “game changer” for reconstructive surgery.

In addition, the use of selective facial bone structure, along with the chin of the donor, granted Hardison natural bone marrow stem cells to help his face heal after surgery.

Rodriguez said: 

“Pat has been incredibly compliant with his postsurgical regimen, and that has allowed us to expedite his surgical schedule. He is extremely committed to daily exercise, taking his medications and meeting with his physicians regularly. All of this has put him way ahead of schedule in terms of getting to the optimal level of recovery and appearance.”

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Hardison says he’s finally prepared to meet the family of David Rodebaugh, the 26-year old Brooklyn artist and cyclist from Ohio, who donated his face and other organs after dying in a bike accident.

Hardison said:

“The surgery has truly given me back my life. I go about my day just like everyone else. It’s allowed me to do things with my family that I had not been able to do. I can’t tell you what a sense of freedom it is to even drive my kids to school. We recently went on a family vacation to Disney World, and I swam in the pool with them — something I hadn’t done in 15 years.”

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“There are no more stares, no more frightened children running away from me. I’m pretty much just a normal guy. Now, I want to help others to pursue this type of surgery, especially fellow firefighters and members of the armed services. There definitely is hope.”

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According to Helen Irving, president and CEO of LiveOnNY, the organ recovery organization for the greater New York metropolitan area, New York State is contemplating new legislation that would encourage more organ donations. Also, the US Defense Department has given research funding and other support in the reconstructive surgery field.

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Rodriguez said:

“We have entered a new era in transplant surgery. The work being done, not only in face transplantation, but also in areas like hand, uterine and penile transplantation, is pushing the boundaries of medicine and surgery and opening up new avenues to restore the lives of people like Patrick. It’s a very exciting time.”

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Hardison’s operation is detailed in a number of papers published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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He’s finally able to go out and do normal things.

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Science is incredible

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The video below shows Patrick Hardison today.

H/T