The Incredible Story Of The World’s Most Extensive Face Transplant

If there’s anyone deserving of a medical miracle, it’s this firefighter who was injured in the line of duty. A year and a half after receiving a face transplant, he’s been able to make an incredible recovery.

Mississippi volunteer firefighter and small business owner Patrick Hardison (pictured below, before the accident) was 27 when suffered severe burns from a house fire in 2001. He lost his ears, lips, eyelids and much of his nose in the fire, and in the years that followed he would end up losing much more. Depressed after the accident, he became addicted to painkillers, and he eventually lost his wife and business. When his doctor told him he was at risk for losing his eyesight due to his lack of eyelids, Hardison told TIME, it was the last straw.

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Courtesy of Patrick Hardison

But in August 2015, Hardison was given the opportunity for a new lease on life. He received a new face from 26-year-old David Rodebaugh (below), who died in a bicycle accident in New York and had registered as an organ donor.

David Rodebaugh 2 - Courtesy of LiveOnNY
Courtesy Live On NY

The surgery was the most extensive face transplant surgery to date. There have been just 30 face transplants since the first one took place in 2005, and Hardison’s surgery is estimated to have cost around $1 million. Face transplants are not FDA-approved, so they are performed technically as research. In Hardison’s case, doctors gave the transplant a 50 percent chance of success.

“You have to understand: If it were to fail, there is no bailout option. You would likely die. This is a procedure that is all or none,” the lead doctor, Eduardo D. Rodriguez told New York magazine.

But the transplant was a success, and thanks to that, Hardison is able to drive a car, swim and lead an overall better quality of life. He no longer uses a feeding or breathing tube.


And he even was able to take a trip with his family to Disney World, something that wouldn’t have been possible before the transplant.

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“I like to say I’m still the same old Pat, but that would not give enough credit to the amazing journey I have gone through this past year,” Hardison said. “The road to recovery has been long. But if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.”

NYU Langone

At the end of the day, this is truly about the amazing capabilities of medicine today, and it’s ultimately about the generosity of Rodebaugh, who made the decision, while he was still alive, to be an organ donor when he died.