World's most 'extensive' transplant gives disfigured firefighter new face
Published 17/11/2015 | 08:28
A former firefighter whose face was burnt off as he tackled a house fire has been given a ‘new lease on life’ after US surgeons carried out the world’s most extensive face transplant ever.
After a 26-hour surgery performed at the New York Langone Medical Center in August, Patrick Hardison (41) now wears the face of David Rodebaugh - a 26-year-old who died in August following a cycling accident.
Mr Rodebaugh's mother, who gave permission for the transplant, described the surgery’s results as “beautiful.”
Plastic surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez led the team that performed the marathon operation, and is believed to have told Mr Hardison that he had a 50 pc chance of surviving the transplant.
The procedure - which was the riskiest face transplant carried out to date - involved the meticulous closure and reconnection of blood vessels and nerves, cutting away Hardison’s scarred face, refitting facial bone and “re-draping” skin across his face.
"You only have one chance to land the Rover. The same goes with the face," Mr Rodriguez told a news conference in New York earlier on Monday.
More than 150 NYU staff were involved in the transplant, and the medical team which carried out the surgery practiced for a full year to get it right, he added.
The team slit the skin at the back of Mr Rodebaugh’s head, peeling each side forward with key pieces of bone attached at the chin, nose and cheekbone and then precisely draped it, like Batman's cowl, onto Mr Hardison's head.
The transplant covers his skull and much of his neck but left behind no scars as the seam of the transplanted tissue runs down the back of his skull.
“Now, for the first time since he lost his face in a raging fire in Senatobia, Mississippi in 2001, MR Hardison can blink and even sleep with his eyes closed”, said Mr Rodriguez.
“The surgery has given him a new face, scalp, ears, ear canals,” he added.
NYU, which will pay for the estimated $1 million surgery, took the case after fellow firefighter reached out on behalf of Mr Hardison, whose own children were initially terrified of their father's disfigured face.
The 41-year-old told the New York magazine: “My kids ran screaming and crying when they saw me. There are things worse than dying.
"I thought for years that I would die the way I was after I got injured. I never thought I would be sitting here today after a face transplant."
Proof of the surgery's success was obvious after a medical team took Mr Hardison shopping for new clothes in a New York shopping centre and “no one in the store gave him a second look”, Mr Rodriguez said.