Transplant gives new face, scalp to burned firefighter

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Volunteer Firefighter Receives Most Extensive Face Transplant In History

NEW YORK (AP) -- A volunteer firefighter badly burned in a 2001 blaze has received the most extensive face transplant ever, covering his skull and much of his neck, a New York hospital announced Monday.

The surgery took place in August at the NYU Langone Medical Center. The patient, 41-year-old Patrick Hardison, is still undergoing physical therapy at the hospital but plans to return home to Senatobia, Mississippi, in time for Thanksgiving.

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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.

Watch more coverage below (VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED):

Medical Animation Details Face Transplant Surgery at NYU

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.

It's "a historic achievement," said Dr. Amir Dorafshar, co-director of the face transplant program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the operation. "This type of treatment option will potentially revolutionize the care of patients with severe facial burn injuries."

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.

The donor was 26-year-old New York artist and competitive bicyclist David P. Rodebaugh. He had died of injuries from a biking accident on a Brooklyn street.

See images from the presentation about his surgery:

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Firefighter gets face transplant at NYU Langone medical center
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Transplant gives new face, scalp to burned firefighter
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez displays images following the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez displays an image from the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez displays an image from the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, MD, DDS, chair, Hansjorg Wyss Dept. Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone, poses with before and after photos of his patient Patrick Hardison during a press conference at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City November 16, 2015 to announce the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date. Dr. Rodriguez led the surgery following a year of preparation on the 41-year-old, a first responder horribly disfigured in 2001. 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, the center announced. Hardison, from Senatobia, Mississippi who suffered extensive facial burns as a volunteer firefighter, just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Hardison was severely disfigured when the roof of a burning home collapsed on top of him during a rescue search, losing his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose, hair and eyebrows. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez displays an image from the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez displays an image from the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, MD, DDS, chair, Hansjorg Wyss Dept. Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone, holds a press conference at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City November 16, 2015 to announce the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date. Dr. Rodriguez led the surgery following a year of preparation on a 41-year-old first responder horribly disfigured in 2001. 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, the center announced. The recipient was Patrick Hardison(on screen), from Senatobia, Mississippi who suffered extensive facial burns as a volunteer firefighter, just days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Hardison was severely disfigured when the roof of a burning home collapsed on top of him during a rescue search, losing his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose, hair and eyebrows. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez announces the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant to date at NYU Langone Medical Center on November 16, 2015 in New York City. The procedure, during which the face of David Rodebaugh was transferred to Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi volunteer firefighter whose face was severely burned in a fire 14 years ago, took more than 24 hours and could cost more than one million dollars. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
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Hardison was burned Sept. 5, 2001, in Senatobia in northwestern Mississippi. A 27-year-old father of three at the time who'd served for seven years as a volunteer firefighter, he entered a burning house to search for a woman. The roof collapsed, giving him third-degree burns on his head, neck and upper torso.

He spent about two months at a Memphis, Tennessee, burn center. Doctors used a layer of skin from his legs to cover his wounded head, but he had lost his ears, lips, most of his nose and virtually all of his eyelid tissue.

Since he could not blink, doctors used skin grafts to reinforce what remained of his eyelids and sewed them nearly shut to protect his eyes. That left him with only pinhole vision.

"I was almost totally blind," he recalled. "I could see just a little bit."

His face was "one huge scar," Rodriguez said. Hardison still went to baseball games and did other things outside, although people stared. He playfully told curious children that he had fought a bear. Still, he said, life was hard. He endured 71 surgeries.

Eventually a church friend of his wrote to Rodriguez, who had performed a 2012 face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The doctor said he would try to help, and in August 2014 Hardison was placed on a waiting list.

"We were looking for the ideal donor," one who matched Hardison on biological traits to minimize the risk of his body's rejecting the new tissue, as well as things like skin and hair color, said Rodriguez, who by then had moved to NYU Langone.

A year later, Rodebaugh was identified as a potential donor by LiveOnNY, the nonprofit organization that seeks transplant organs and tissue in the New York City area. A native of the Columbus, Ohio, area, he had signed up to donate organs. His mother gave permission to use his face, noting that Rodebaugh had always wanted to be a firefighter, said LiveOnNY president Helen Irving.

The hospital paid for the transplant operation, which included attaching four bone segments to Hardison's skull, as anchors to prevent the face from drooping.

Now, three months later, the lower part of his face remains swollen, but Rodriguez said that will go away in a few months. With his new eyelids and more surgery, he's expected to regain a normal field of vision for the first time in more than a decade. He will have to continuing taking medications to prevent his body from rejecting the transplant.

Watch more coverage below:

Firefighter Gets World's Most Extensive Face Transplant

Eventually, "a casual observer will not notice anything that is odd" in Hardison's new face, which will blend features of his original face and the donor's, Rodriguez said.

Hardison said his new face has already made a difference when he goes outside.

He's been told he can't return to firefighting because of insurance concerns, but he has another plan: motivational speaking or something similar, perhaps for wounded veterans.

His message? "Just how there is hope."

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