In what's being described as a major scientific milestone, doctors on Monday announced they had successfully performed the most extensive face transplant in medical history, transforming the appearance of a volunteer firefighter who was badly burned in the line of duty.
Staff at New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City announced the successful completion of the transplant on Patrick Hardison, 41, of Senatobia, Mississippi, who was left with disfiguring burns to his face and scalp during a search-and-rescue operation in a burning home in September 2001.
"[Hardison's] surgery sets new standards in facial transplantation and will serve as an amazing learning tool," said professor of reconstructive surgery Eduardo Rodriguez in a statement.
The team was able to successfully transplant a set of ears, ear canals, chin, cheeks, and an entire nose to Hardison's face.
Rodriguez also highlighted the achievement in successfully transplanting the facial donor's eyelids and blinking mechanisms to Hardison.
"This is a major milestone — one that could lead to preserving vision in future patients," Rodriguez said.
Hardison was disfigured when the roof of the building he was searching collapsed on him leading to the loss of his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose, his eyebrows, and his hair.
A team of more than 100 doctors, nurses, technical, and support staff worked for 26 hours to complete the transplant in August.
The surgery was made possible through the donation of a face by David P. Rodebaugh, a registered organ donor who was killed in an accident in Brooklyn.
After his death, loved ones of Rodebaugh, 26, agreed to donate his face — as well as his heart, liver, and kidneys — to save the lives of others.
Face transplants have been performed successfully before; in 2012, a team at the University of Maryland Medical Center replaced a gun attack victim's face with that of an anonymous donor — including both jaws, teeth, and tongue.
Just last year, a Vermont woman also received an extensive face transplant after her face was disfigured when her estranged husband doused her with lye in June 2007.
Hardison said he chose to go public with the story of his recovery because he wanted it to give hope to other burn victims.
"I am very excited to share my story to help others, especially fellow firefighters and members of the armed services who have been injured in the line of duty," he said.
"I am deeply grateful to my donor and his family," he added. "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."
Since his accident, Hardison has endured more than 70 surgeries to begin repairing his burns, but the damage to his face had left him unable to return to a normal life.
He was brought to the attention of Dr. Rodriquez by a member of his church and fellow firefighter who wrote to the doctor to describe Hardison's situation.
“When I met Patrick and heard his story, I knew that I had to do all that I could to help him — and every member of my team felt the same way," said Rodriquez, who had previously performed a facial transplant in 2012.
Medical staff used advanced modeling and 3D-printed, patient-specific cutting guides designed from the recipient’s and the donor’s CT scans to provide the most precise “snap-fit” of the skeleton.
Rodebaugh's mother Nancy Millar said it was important to her to honor David's decision to donate his organs so "something good could come from something so tragic."
“We decided to honor David’s decision to donate his organs — so that others like Patrick Hardison can live on in his memory and benefit from his generosity," she said. "I wish Patrick and his family all the best as he embarks on a new life.”
Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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