Harrison during follow-up surgery. (Photo: Courtesy of NYU Langone)
Last August, 42-year-old Patrick Hardison underwent a historic surgery when he received the most extensive face transplant ever performed. And this morning, he and his surgeon announced that his recovery is going extraordinarily well.
In fact, there have been three significant landmarks in Hardison’s recovery: the absence of a rejection episode, the normal function of his new eyelids, and the execution and achievement of the most extensive soft-tissue clinical face transplant to date.
“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery, which has surpassed all of our expectations,” said Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS, the chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, in a press release. “Most significant is the lack of a rejection episode. We believe this has much to do with the methodical approach we took in the matching process to ensure that Patrick’s donor provided the most favorable match. Doing so also has allowed us to reduce the levels of certain medications that Pat takes to prevent rejection.”
The successful transplant of the donor’s eyelids and blinking mechanisms have been labeled as a game changer for the field of face transplantation, since Hardison was in danger of losing his eyesight. (Blinking is vital because it enables the body to appropriately hydrate and clean the eyes in order to prevent infection and preserve vision.)
Harrison during an eye exam. (Photo: Courtesy of NYU Langone)
“Being able to give Pat this level of independence is a primary reason why we undertook this surgery,” stated Rodriguez.
The former first responder from Mississippi was severely burned on a rescue mission in September 2001. After going through 71 surgeries that left him with minimal vision, Rodriguez placed Hardison on a waiting list for a face transplant. When the right donor was found, a team of more than 100 medical practitioners performed the surgery, which lasted 26 hours.
Harrison before, shortly after surgery and today. (Photo: Courtesy of NYU Langone)
Over the last year, Hardison took medications daily, met with Rodriguez each month for a checkup, and underwent additional surgeries, including the removal of his abdominal feeding tube and the breathing tube in his trachea — a procedure that took place ahead of schedule due to Hardison’s quicker-than-expected recovery.
“Well, I’m happy to tell you that I’m doing great!” said Hardison during this morning’s press conference. “I like to say I’m still the same old Pat, but that would not give enough credit to the amazing journey I have gone through this past year. The road to recovery has been long. But, if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would in a heartbeat!”
Hardison has regained the ability to drive. (Photo: Courtesy of NYU Langone)
He stated that the ability to blink has greatly improved his vision — “I now can, once again, drive a car, and I am able to sleep more soundly” — and he swam in a pool with his children this past June during a family vacation to Disney World. “That’s something I had not done in 15 years!”
Also, the odd looks from strangers and frightened children have suddenly stopped. “I’m pretty much back to being a normal guy, doing normal activities,” continued Hardison.
Now that he has hit the one-year mark, Hardison is ready to formally thank the family of his donor, David Rodebaugh. A meeting is planned for late fall.
Hardison is planning to thank the family of David Rodebaugh. (Photo: Courtesy of Live on NY)
Along with being incredibly grateful to Rodriguez and his medical team for his new lease on life, Hardison wants his experience to be one of hope for other injured firefighters and first responders, as well as injured members of the Armed Services.
“If sharing my story helps just one person explore the possibility of a face transplant, then it’s been worth it.”