Volunteer Mississippi firefighter Patrick Hardison was horrifically burned when he stormed into a flaming building trying to find a missing woman.
The roof collapsed, leaving him with third-degree burns and taking his ears, his eyelids and his face.
But in the most extensive face transplant ever, the 41-year-old father of three has been given a new face and a new chance at life.
After 26 hours of plastic surgery, Hardison has new ears, new eyelids, hair and the ability to see, NYU Langone Medical Center announced Monday.
The surgery was conducted at the hospital in August, and is the world’s most extensive in terms of the amount of tissue grafted onto Hardison’s head, face, and neck, according to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the surgical team.
His face has no scars because doctors stitched the seam down the back of his skull.
The donor was a 26-year-old Brooklyn man who was killed in a biking accident. David Rodebaugh was an artist and competitive cyclist.
Hardison was hurt in 2001 while working a house fire in Senatobia. He was 27 at the time. He spent nearly two months at a Tennessee burn center, where surgeons grafted skin from his legs onto his head. His eyelids were gone, and he couldn’t see. His lips and his ears were also burned off.
“I was almost totally blind,” he told the Associated Press. “I could just see a little bit.” He underwent 71 surgeries, but his face was a mess and people stared.
A church acquaintance wrote to Dr. Rodriguez, who had performed a 2012 face transplant in Maryland.
The surgeon agreed to help, and the fireman’s name was put on a waiting list.
And then Rodebaugh, who was an organ donor, had his fateful accident. His mother gave the OK for Rodriguez to use her son’s face.
NYU Langone paid for the transplant surgery. Since then, Hardison has regained some of his vision, and is still in physical therapy. But he is expected to return home for Thanksgiving.
When he ventures outside, no one gapes at him.
“I used to get stared at all the time, he said. “Now I’m just an average guy.”