41 year old former firefighter from Tennessee, Pat Hardison, lost most of his face when his fireman’s mask melted to it during a blaze in a mobile home in 2001.
He said his disfigured features made his young children scream in terror – and he despaired of ever living a normal life again. But now Hardison has been given a new face – and new hope – thanks to the riskiest face transplant ever performed.
The father of five had the face of 26-year-old David Rodebaugh grafted on to what remained of his own features in August this year after the young man died in a cycling crash.
The surgery was so perilous that Hardison was told he had only a 50 per cent chance of surviving it. But three months later he is thriving and boasts: ‘Now I’m just an average guy.’.
The amazing transformation was only made possible when Rodebaugh’s mom agreed to the transplant, noting that her son had always wanted to be a firefighter.
Recalling the incident, he told ABC:
‘It was just a normal day. Just like every other fire…we went in looking for a lady.’
He entered the house with three other firefighters but the ceiling collapsed around him.
‘[My mask] was melting to my face,’ Hardison said. ‘My hose [was] already melted.
He pulled the mask off, held his breath and closed his eyes, which doctors say saved his sight and prevented smoke from damaging his throat and lungs.
The former firefighter spent 63 days in hospital and was given the semblance of a face with flesh taken from his thighs. He had lost his ears, lips, most of his nose and virtually all of his eyelid tissue.
Because of this, he was unable to see properly.
When he returned home, he recalled how his three young children, Alison, six, Dalton, three and Averi, two, were terrified of him.
Speaking to ABC, he said:
‘My kids were scared of me. You can’t blame them. They’re young kids.’He playfully told them and other curious children that he had fought a bear but they ‘ran screaming and crying when they saw me. There are things worse than dying
Even though he had two more children, Braden and Cullen after the accident, the impact of his accident put a huge strain on his family life and after ten years of marriage, he and his wife Chrissi divorced.
More than 100 doctors, nurses, technical and support staff took part in the 26-hour operation, conducted in mid-August at the NYU Langone Medical Center.