Left, Patrick Hardison before the fire. Right, donor David Rodebaugh.
Patrick Hardison was a part-time firefighter in Mississippi. In 2001, a burning roof collapsed on him and ruined his face. He was left without ears, lips, eyelids, scalp, or anything else on his head. Skin grafts gave him a covering, but no features. He could not close his eyes, nor open them all the way. He lived in that condition for years, undergoing painful surgeries on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez was practicing facial transplants, developing techniques for ever more comprehensive surgeries. Then in 2015, David Rodebaugh suffered a fatal brain injury from a bike accident in Brooklyn. He was an organ donor.
Rodriguez warned Hardison that the surgery had only a 50 percent chance of success. This would be the most extensive face transplant yet performed — including the entire scalp, ears, and eyelids. “You have to remove the old face to the bare bones,” he explained. “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.”
Hardison’s kids were scared. “They didn’t understand why he’d take the chance,” explained Chrissi. “They loved him as he was. To them, he was normal.” The younger son had a nightmare that surgeons turned his father into a monster. But Hardison had already reached the point of all or none. “Kids ran screaming and crying when they saw me,” he said. “There are things worse than dying.”
Update: Here is a series of pictures of Hardison's recovery after the transplant.