For the first time since receiving the most detailed face transplant in the world, this former Mississippi firefighter is having a face-to-face with the donor’s mom.
It was an emotional scene when Pat Hardison, the 42-year-old who was left mutilated after a 2001 building fire, and Nancy Millar, whose son donated his face following a deadly bicycle accident, met for the first time following the groundbreaking procedure nearly a year and a half ago.
“May I kiss your forehead?” Millar asked the father of three in footage captured by Nightline. She then explained she and her son used to have a tradition of kissing each other on the forehead.
The scar Millar used to kiss on her late-son’s face, where he had the chicken pox, was still visible after the transplant.
“Thank you for being so strong and healthy,” Millar said to the recipient of her son’s face. “Thank you for risking your life to do this. When I knew you were a firefighter, I knew you had the strength to go through this.
“I am as proud of you as I was of my own son,” she continued. “It’s not David’s face, it’s your face."
Millar’s son, David Rodebaugh died in a biking accident in Brooklyn, New York, last summer. He was 26 years old.
"He had a serious, serious thing for speed. He broke some bones, but there was no fear in that boy at all," Millar recalled in the Nightline interview. “I think he could peddle a bike and cut wood before he could even walk."
As a single mother, Millar raised Rodebaugh in Ohio, where he eventually was known as a BMX rider and a bike mechanic.
Rodebaugh was riding without a helmet in the Brooklyn bicycle accident last summer, and fought for his life for three weeks before his mother decided to let him go.
When doctors realized Rodebaugh was an organ donor, and a match for Hardison, who lost his face in a fire nearly 15 years ago, family members decided to go ahead with the controversial and experimental surgery that would change Hardison’s life forever.
Hardison, a volunteer firefighter from Mississippi, was only 27 years old when a roof collapsed on him while he was battling a building fire.
He was left with third-degree burns, and his ears, eyelids and face were all burned off.
While he underwent 71 life-saving surgeries, it was not until he underwent the facial transplant surgery, which took 26-hours and cost $1 million, that his life was transformed.
“I was alive before, but I wasn’t living before the transplant,” he told Inside Edition in a previous interview. “Before the transplant, I would go down the street and I had so much disfigurement that people would just look and stare. Most of them meant nothing by it; they were just curious what had happened."
He said that even his three children, who were then 2, 3, and 6, were afraid of him.
“They did the surgery beautifully,” he told his donor’s mother.