Firefighter receives world’s “most extensive” face transplant

17 Nov 2015

Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, pictured with his face transplant patient Patrick Hardison at NYU Langone on 12 November, 2015

A team of over more than 100 doctors, nurses and support staff have completed the “most extensive” face transplant ever, transforming the appearance of a firefighter who was injured on the job.

Volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison was injured by fire a few days before the 9/11 attacks in New York, with a burning roof collapsing on him and leaving him with a huge level of burns on his head, neck and upper torso.

He lost his eyelids, eyebrows, ears, lips and most of his nose, as well as his hair, before going through over 70 separate surgeries in the US.

None of these restored Hardison to a stage that he could return to everyday life, though, with Dr Eduardo Rodriguez stepping in after a friend reached out to the NYU Langone Medical Centre worker.

Patrick Hardison | Face tranplant

Patrick Hardison pre-injury, via NYU Langone

Among the numerous, truly amazing achievements throughout the 26-hour surgery – which the hospital paid for – was the quite remarkable fact that the donor’s eyelids and muscles that control blinking were transplanted.

Rodriguez and his team successfully transplanted the ears and ear canals, some actual bone structures in the cheeks, chin and nose, as well as placing a series of metal plates and screws to help contour the face.

Patrick Hardison | Face transplant

Patrick Hardison pre-surgery, and again post-surgery on 11 November, via NYU Langone

Within the final hours of surgery, Hardison’s new face, particularly his new lips and ears, were filled with colour, indicating circulation had been restored.

The hair on his scalp and face “began growing back immediately”, according to NYU Langone. He was blinking by day three, pivotal to ensuring he could keep his sight, and is up and about now after just three months.

The donor has been named as David Rodebaugh, an artist and cycling enthusiast who was killed in an accident.

Rodriguez’s team were split in two rooms, one with Rodebaugh’s remains and one with Hardison.

The team slit the skin at the back of the donor’s head, peeling each side forward with key pieces of bone attached – the very bones successfully transplanted – and then precisely draped it onto Hardison’s head.

Donor David Rodebaugh

Donor David Rodebaugh, via LiveOnNY

“I am deeply grateful to my donor and his family,” said Hardison after the surgery was declared a success.

“Even though I did not know who they would be, I prayed for them every day, knowing the difficult decision they would have to make in order to help me.

“I hope they see in me the goodness of their decision.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic