The ‘most extensive’ face transplant in history gives firefighter new life

Posted at 1:00 PM, Nov 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-16 13:03:16-05

A 41-year-old volunteer firefighter from Mississippi now lives with the face of a 26-year-old Brooklyn bike mechanic.

A plastic surgeon at the New York University Langone Medical Center performed the “most extensive” face transplant surgery in history, according to the hospital.

Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez and Patrick Hardison (Photo: NYU Langone Medical Center)

Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez and Patrick Hardison (Photo: NYU Langone Medical Center)

In 2011, Patrick Hardison, now 41, entered a burning home on a rescue search, and the roof collapsed on him and his firefighter’s mask burned onto his face, according to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the team of more than 150 staff members at NYU.

Hardison held his breath and jumped out a window.

He was left with disfiguring burns across his entire face, head, neck, and upper torso. He lost his eyelids, ears, lips, and most of his nose, as well as his hair, including his eyebrows.

After Hardison had more than 70 surgeries, a member of his church in Senatobia, Mississippi, saw stories about a transplant performed by Rodriguez, who was then at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The church member reached out to Rodriguez, who later moved to NYU.

Before and after the surgery (Photo: NYU Langone Medical Center)

Before and after the surgery (Photo: NYU Langone Medical Center)

After waiting for more than a year, a donor was finally found: David Rodebaugh, a 26-year old bike mechanic who died in a biking accident on August 12, and whose heart, liver, kidney, eyes and bones went to other recipients.

Hardison’s surgery took place two days later. It required 12 hours in the operating room to remove Rodebaugh’s face and bring it to Hardison’s operating room.

Rodriguez and his team gave Hardison a new face, scalp, ears and ear canals, and selected portions of bone from the chin, cheeks, and entire nose.

He also received new eyelids and the muscles that control blinking, as he was previously unable to close his eyes completely.

Since 1985, 28 face transplants have been performed worldwide. There have been three deaths related to the surgery but with otherwise “encouraging” results, according to a study co-authored by Rodriguez and published in The Lancet earlier this year.

Rodriguez said three months after the surgery Hardison is doing well and on the path to a full recovery. In six months he should be able to speak normally, he said.

The entire procedure, which was paid for by NYU, cost between $850,000 and a million dollars.

Hardison told New York magazine he will spend the rest of his life in constant pain, but to have a face of his own, “I can live with the pain.”