A volunteer firefighter from Mississippi, Patrick Hardison, was the recipient of the world’s most extensive face transplant, says the New York University Langone Medical Center on Monday.
41-year-old Hardison was fighting a mobile home fire in Senatobia, Mississippi in 2001, when he got trapped inside and lost his face to the fire. Since then, Hardison has undergone over 70 surgeries, but the doctors had never been able to reconstruct his face.
Now, 14 years later, he’s received a new scalp and a new face, including ears, lips, nose and both upper and lower eyelids. The face came from 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, a BMX extreme bicycling athlete from Brooklyn who was declared brain dead on August 12th after an accident that had him thrown from his bike.
Finding a donor was an immense challenge; the donor and Hardison had to have the same size face, the same blood type, similar weight and height, and certain genes had to match. Understanding this, Rodebaugh’s family agreed to the procedure.
The procedure, which took place at the New York Medical Center on August 14th, took 26 hours to complete, and was incredibly risky; it was estimated they had a 50/50 chance of it working.
Two simultaneous surgeries were taking place on two operating tables–both the surgery on Hardison as well as the surgery on Rodebaugh. The medical team practiced for an entire year to get it just right–slitting the skin at the back of the donor’s head, peeling it forward with key pieces of bones attached at the cheekbone, nose, and chin, and then precisely draping it onto Hardison’s head.
“You only have one chance to land the Rover. The same goes with the face,” Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, leader of the 150-person medical team, told Reuters Magazine on Monday. “Everything has to be perfectly positioned.”
The surgeons had to remove the faces of Rodebaugh and Hardison in complete synchronicity, and over three months after the procedure, it has been announced a complete success.
For the first time in 14 years, Patrick Hardison is able to blink and sleep with his eyes closed, which are key steps to saving his eyes from previously-inevitable blindness.
Hardison’s body has not yet rejected his new face. “This is not an operation that’s for everyone,” says Dr. Rodriguez. “It’s for very courageous individuals. But we have proved that the science is there.”
The first full-face transplant was successfully conducted in Poland in 2013. The first successful full-face transplant in the United States was successfully performed last year at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Hardison’s full-face transplant is the most complex face transplant ever performed to date.