Facial Transplant Surgery Transforms Life of Injured Firefighter

Saving face is one thing but getting an entirely new one is a horse of another color. For Patrick Hardison, a 41 year-old volunteer firefighter from Mississippi who suffered catastrophic facial burns back in 2001, a facial transplant has meant a life without pain and humiliation. His donor was David Rodebaugh, a 26 year-old artist and cycling enthusiast from Ohio who died as a result of injuries sustained in a cycling accident that occurred in Brooklyn, New York. He was a registered organ donor and his heart, liver and kidneys were also donated both to other recipients and to research.


Partrick Hardison Before and After SurgeryPartrick Hardison Before and After Surgery

The most extensive facial transplant ever done

The surgical team at New York University's Langone Medical Center was comprised of over 100 individuals. Cuban-born, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, chair of the Hansjorg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery and the surgeon who led the operation, said: "The surgeons planned out the extensive surgery down to the minute. The surgery is historic...The amount of tissue that was transplanted had never been transplanted before."

The transplant operation was a marathon requiring some 26 straight hours of surgery to complete and more than a year of preparation. Hardison had lost his ears, had no normal tissue in his face, scalp, eyelids, nose or lips, and had already endured more than 70 previous surgeries intended to restore some of his lost skin. Facial expressions and simple tasks like chewing were extremely painful for this brave young firefighter.


Hardison Before Fire and David RodebaughHardison Before Fire and David Rodebaugh

The facial transplant surgery was complex and extensive. It took 12 hours for the team to remove the donor's face, entire scalp and eyelids as well as a few bones in the face and chin for the purpose of facial definition. Important blood vessels and nerves were identified and preserved for re-attachment during the transplant process. Replacing the muscles that control the eyelids was an ongoing concern as their purpose is to protect the cornea. This required painstaking attention, and has given hope to others who have lost their eyelids but still have their vision.

While Patrick is still becoming accustomed to his face and his new life, the physical and psychological challenges remain arduous and daunting. Despite his incredible suffering, his gratitude to both the surgical team and his donor and family shine through his tears of joy.

In his own words: "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. They have given me much more than a new face. They have given me a new life."

For Patrick Hardison a new face is an about face and a chance to shine in more ways than one.

Do you think a facial transplant could have been performed twenty years ago? Explain.

Closing thoughts:

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~ Albert Einstein