Face of Brooklyn cyclist transplanted onto disfigured Mississippi firefighter

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Monday, November 16, 2015
Face of Brooklyn cyclist transplanted onto disfigured Mississippi firefighter
Mallory Hoff has details on an extensive face transplant for a badly burned volunteer firefighter.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A Mississippi firefighter who was disfigured while trying to save people from a house fire 14 years ago will get a second chance to get his life back and feel normal again.

He has received the face of a Brooklyn cyclist in a remarkable transplant carried out in Manhattan, at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

The bike rider died in an accident in July, and it took over 12 hours to make his face, the new face of 41-year-old Patrick Hardison.

His doctors warned him that the procedure was so risky that he had only a 50-50 chance of surviving it.

But it was a risk he was willing to take. "I prayed daily that there would be a miracle to help me get through this, and you know, it's all in God's timing," Hardison said.

This combination of Aug. 15, 2015 to Nov. 11, 2015 photos provided by the hospital shows the recuperation of Hardison after his facial transplant surgery.

The surgery has paved the way for him to regain normal vision, and in an interview last week he said that will let him accomplish a major goal: "I'll start driving again."

More than two dozen face transplants have been performed worldwide since the first one in France in 2005. Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the surgical team that did Hardison's transplant and recently wrote a review of the field, said Hardison's is by far the most extensive performed successfully in terms of the amount of tissue transferred.

"The procurement of the face took approximately 12 hours, the preparation of Patrick's face took approximately 8 hours," said Dr. Rodriguez. "The face was brought from the donor room to the recipient room. This was a well-synchronized, executed procedure, one that we had rehearsed for so many times."

The transplant extends from the top of the head, over Hardison's skull and down to the collarbones in front; in back, it reaches far enough down that only a tiny patch of Hardison's original hair remains - its color matched by the dark blond hair growing on his new scalp. The transplant includes both ears.

The surgery began Aug. 14 and lasted 26 hours. It left no scars on Hardison's new face because the seam of the transplanted tissue runs down the back of his skull.

"You see how nice your nose is, what so you think about your nose?" said Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS, Lead Face Transplant Team.

"This is great, how great is that," Hardison said.

"He's doing very well, for only day 93. He will require other procedures," Dr. Rodriguez said. "We had an emotional exchange when our team took him to buy clothes and no one stared at him, no one looked at him."

A friend urged Hardison to send his medical records there. Hardison put those files in the hands of Dr. Rodriguez. In 2012, they began their journey together.

"We did have some challenges identifying the ideal donor, an individual that would be of fair skin, light haired, without any potential for harm in Patrick's future life," Dr. Rodriguez said.

Helen Irving is the CEO of the organ recovery organization "Live On New York". She welcomed the challenge. More than a year after the search began, there was a donor.

"David Roder-Bock was a 26-years-old, he had been declared brain dead following a bicycle accident, originally from Ohio he had relocated to Brooklyn a few years earlier," Irving said. "His mother immediately said 'Yes', there was no hesitation in her mind, you see her son had always wanted to be a fireman."

In death he would give a new face and a new day to man who traded in his reflection when he ran into a burning home.

The transplant cost between $800,000 and $1 million, and was paid for by medical center grant money.

Tune in to "Nightline" at 12:35 a.m. ET this week to watch the full story, and read about it at abcnews.com

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)