Former Mississippi firefighter Patrick Hardison was subjected to the world’s most complete face transplant after he was buried under a crumbling building in 2001.

Hardison says that he now feels like “a normal guy,” able to eat and see after the surgery. Before the procedure, he couldn’t drive, hear correctly or swim. 42-year-old Hardison was submitted to plastic surgery in August 2015. Now he can walk in crowds with confidence as he sports a head full of hair, a reconstructed nose, eyelids, and lips. The voluntary ex-firefighter used to wear sunglasses and hats to hide from the public eye, as children would often be scared of his appearance.

Patrick Hardinson pre-surgery, and post surgery on November 11, 2015. Image Credit: Bicycling

“I’d like to say that I’m the same old Pat, but that would not give enough credit to the amazing journey that I have gone through over the past year,” stated Hardison in a press conference.

Living with a new face

He stated that, after his accident, he was not happy with life, but the surgery had given him hope and strength to deal with his injuries. Hardison went to the public to share his story with everyone who has suffered from facial deformation, especially military personnel, firefighters, and emergency personnel.

The surgery was performed by a team comprised of over one hundred plastic surgery specialists and physicians at the New York University Langone Medical Center. Only a handful of patients have undergone complete facial transplants in the world, whereas Hardison’s case would be the most extensive in U.S. history.

Surgeons took 12 hours to match Hardison’s face to that of David Rodebaugh, a 26-year-old mechanic who died in an accident and was listed as an organ donor. The team had to connect Hardison’s nerves to Rodebaugh’s muscles so he could blink and move his lips correctly. The surgery cost an estimated $1 million, but the hospital covered the expenses. Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the lead surgeon, was awarded $2.5 million by the Defense Department to continue working towards face transplant procedures and research.

Donor David Rodebaugh (left) and Patrick Hardison preinjury (right). Image Credit: Bicycling

Hardison’s body did not react adversely to the face transplant and his eyelids, the part that the surgeons considered most critical, were completely fine throughout the whole recovery process. Besides, Hardison’s facial features were made to match his kids’. After the initial surgery, Hardison had to be operated on again to breathe correctly and eat regularly, as he previously had to use a tube on his neck for those functions. Reportedly, Hardison has plans of meeting the family of David Rodebaugh in the near future.

A father of five, Hardison expressed that he was happy for the first time in years when he could see his children after the reconstructive surgery. He also commented on the fact that, at last, he could feel the face of his kids against his, something that his injuries had forbidden for 15 years.

Now Hardison can drive, swim and perform all of the activities an average person can. He looks forward to returning to work and to watch his children grow a happy and full life.

Source: CNN