Volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison, a 41-year-old resident of Senatobia, Mississippi, suffered extensive facial burns after responding to a residential fire in 2001 -- and his life has never been the same.
He lost his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose and all facial hair in the accident. Ever since, Hardison would wear a basketball cap, sunglasses, and prosthetic ears to cover his wounds while in public. But now, he has a new face.
Watch a video about Hardison's emotional journey above.
Hardison underwent a face transplant surgery at New York University's Langone Medical Center in August, receiving a new face, scalp, ears, chin, cheeks, nose, eyelids, and the eye muscles that control blinking. Now that he is successfully recovering, the procedure is being called the most extensive face transplant to date, and the first in New York.
The hospital announced the surgery in a press conference on Monday.
Enabling Hardison to open and close his eyelids was the surgery's primary purpose, said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon at the center who led the 26-hour procedure. It's the first time that doctors have transplanted a patient's eyelids.
"We often think how one could live with this type of injury, but Patrick did. He persisted," Rodriguez said.
Surgeons completed the procedure using the face of 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, a Brooklyn bike mechanic who was pronounced brain dead after a bicycle accident and who donated his organs through Live On NY donor network. The doctors attached Rodebaugh's facial tissue to Hardison's face, connecting some nerves and major veins while allowing other nerves to regenerate.
"I am deeply grateful to my donor and his family," Hardison said in a statement. "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. I also want to thank Dr. Rodriguez and his amazing team. They have given me more than a new face. They have given me a new life."
More than 100 physicians, nurses, technical staff, and support staff collaborated on the operation, which has given Hardison improved facial function. They also helped him through his recovery and rehabilitation after the procedure.
The cost of the procedure is comparable to a liver transplant, Rodriguez said.
Hardison is continuing to receive extensive rehabilitation therapy to help with his facial strength and speech.
"The fact that we were able to perform this and the patient was able to come out of the operating room safely is a very important, historic event," Rodriguez said. "Now we have proven that the technology, the ability to transplant faces, has advanced."
Also on HuffPost (via New York Magazine): How One Man's Face Became Another Man's Face