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Firefighter Recovering Well One Year After Monumental Face Transplant

Volunteer firefighter Pat Hardison was on duty one night in Mississippi in 2001 when a roof collapsed on him, leaving him with severe third-degree burns to the head, neck and upper torso. He lost his lips, ears, most of his nose and almost all of his eyelids in the devastating accident.

Now, one year after Hardison’s face transplant — the longest procedure on record at 26 hours, but also the first and most successful — he has recovered and is living a healthy, normal life, Fox News reports.

“There are no more stares, no more frightened children running away from me. I’m pretty much just a normal guy,” Hardison shared in a press release from the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center.

Now, I want to help others to pursue this type of surgery, especially fellow firefighters and members of the armed services. There definitely is hope.

The facial transplant made headlines last year — a procedure that cost over $1 million and involved more than a hundred medical specialists. The operation required thousands of stitches, and Hardison only had a 50/50 chance of surviving.

Hardison’s new face came from a 27-year-old man from Brooklyn named David Rodebaugh, whose mother donated his face after Rodebaugh died in a bicycle accident.

Rodebaugh’s face turned out to be a good physical match for Hardison. His body did not reject the face, which was a surprising first, according to NYU. His eyelids are now functioning normally, allowing him to blink so his body can hydrate and clean his eyes, ABC 7 reports.

Lead surgeon Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the chairperson of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, attributed the lack of rejection to the surgical team’s thorough approach to finding a good facial match. This allowed them to reduce the amount of anti-rejection drugs for Hardison.

Rodriguez also explains the method used in the groundbreaking surgery. All incisions were made below the shirt and up to the hairline, so there are no visible cuts around the ears and eyelids. The surgeons even made the incisions necessary for the mouth and nose area inside the organs.

Surgeons also included some of Rodebaugh’s facial bones and chin, which produced natural bone marrow stem cells that greatly helped the transplant function properly.

Rodriguez says, “Pat has been incredibly compliant with his post-surgical regimen, and that has allowed us to expedite his surgical schedule.” Hardison’s commitment to recovery, including regular checkups, medications, and exercise, all gave him the edge in getting to recovery quickly.

This year, Hardison was able to go to Disney World with his family and go swimming, something he has not done in 15 years, he says. He was also able to walk into a department store without anyone staring, which he considers amazing.

Hardison intends to meet the donor’s family this fall. He says he is forever grateful to Rodenbaugh’s mother for her decision to donate her son’s face. “Her son was going to be a firefighter, so when she heard that, she never hesitated,” he says. “I can’t express the gratitude enough. It’s amazing. And I don’t think she acknowledges what she has given myself and my family, especially my kids. She’s given us our life back.”

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