HEARTWARMING: World’s Most Extensive Face Transplant Recipient Speaks Out

A Mississippi man has just gotten a new chance at having a normal life again after a horrible accident that happened nearly 15 years ago.

In 2001 – firefighter and then 27-year-old Patrick Hardison suffered extensive burn injuries after a running back into a burning building to save a woman. Unfortunately, the roof caved in and he received severe burns that covered and completely disfigured his head, neck and chest.

NYU Lagone Medical Center

NYU Lagone Medical Center

Since the tragic incident, Hardison, 41, has had to seclude himself from the world and live the following years in constant emotional and mental pain. He lost his eyelids, lips, ears, hair and the majority of his nose. He has had 71 surgeries in efforts to improve the quality of his life, including having his eyes nearly sewn shut to protect them since he lost his ability to blink.

“So it was like I only had pinholes to see through,” he said, reports CNN.

In August 2014, he was placed on the waiting list for a face transplant after a church friend of his contacted Dr. Rodriguez – a practitioner who had already successfully performed another face transplant in 2012.

Dr. Rodriguez described Hardison’s face as being “one huge scar” and stated that it was imperative that they locate a donor whose biological traits held resemblance to Hardison’s.

 A year later, Hardison had a donor.

The donor was 27-year-old bicylist and BMX shredder – David Rodebaugh, who had recently lost his life after a biking accident in Brooklyn, New York. Rodebaugh signed up to be an organ donor through Live On NY, which is a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to the recovery of organs for potential transplantation.

Hardison (left) before his accident and organ donor David Rodebaugh (right)

Hardison (left) before his accident and organ donor David Rodebaugh (right)

David Rodebaugh

David Rodebaugh | Live On NY

Soon after, Hardison was immediately sent to surgery to perform the 26-hour transplantation led by Dr. Rodriguez alongside a team of 100 surgeons, nurses and other medical practitioners.

Dr. Rodriguez (left) and Patrick Hardison (right)

Dr. Rodriguez (left) and Patrick Hardison (right) | NYU Lagone Medical Center

The $1 million operation was performed at the NYU Lagone Medical Center and was paid for by the hospital.

Hardison Before Surgery

Hardison Before Surgery | NYU Lagone Medical Center

According to reports, Hardison received a new face, scalp, ears and ear canals, and selected portions of bone from the chin, cheeks and entire nose.

In addition, he also received new eyelids with muscles that control blinking.

Back then, he couldn’t drive, would get stared at by people and asked by children what happened to him. He’d jokingly tell them he got into an altercation with a bear.

“After my accident, my life was really hard. I hated life,” he said.“I’m here today because I want others to see that there is hope beyond the injury. I’m especially proud to share my story with other injured firefighters, first responders and US military. If sharing my story helps just one person explore the possibility of face transplants, then it’s worth it. … I have hope now, and I want to help those that are injured know that there is hope for them, too.”

Almost a year later, doctors are surprised how well his body has adapted to his transplant.

His transplant has now come to be known as the most extensive transplant procedure ever performed.

“The work being done … 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” Dr. Rodriguez commented.

Hardison has had four minor follow up procedures since then, but only to adjust his new eyelids and lips and to remove a feeding tube from his abdomen and a breathing tube from his trachea.

He can now eat again.

“I’ve gained about 30 pounds; look at that” he joked.

Hardison has since vacationed at Disney World with his family, where he swam. The first time in 15 years.

Hardison (fourth from the left) and his family

Hardison (fourth from the left) and his family | NYU Lagone Medical Center

“I’m pretty much back to being a normal guy, doing normal activities,” he said at a news conference Wednesday.

He also visited some of his fellow firefighters , who dedicated a truck in his honor.

Patrick Hardison: February 2016

Patrick Hardison: February 2016 | NYU Lagone Medical Center

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