Senatobia volunteer firefighter Pat Hardison, the world's most extensive face transplant recipient, spoke to the Mid-South Transplant Association and Mid-South Eyebank annual celebration of life Sunday at Memphis Botanic Gardens. Wochit
MEMPHIS — If anyone believes in miracles, it’s Pat Hardison, the Senatobia volunteer fireman who received the world’s most extensive face transplant two years ago.
He trusted in God and his doctors that he would be the first to successfully receive a full facial transplant, and he was rewarded with a new lease on life.
Hardison’s face was burned beyond recognition while he was battling a house fire on Sept. 5, 2001.
In August 2015, he received a face transplant covering his skull and most of his neck.
The surgery took 26 hours and a team of more than 100 medical professionals led by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who specializes in reconstructive surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Hardison received the face of a Brooklyn bike mechanic and courier named David Rodebaugh, who had been declared brain dead after a cycling accident.
Sunday afternoon, Hardison stood before family members of Mid-South organ donors and thanked them for their loved ones' role in making miracles happen for people like him.
"The donors and the families, you can’t imagine the thank you’s and gratitude that people like me owe you all for that gift. All I can say is, thank you," Hardison said.
He was a guest speaker at the Mid-South Transplant Foundation and Mid-South Eyebank’s Celebration of Life. The foundation is the federally designated organ transplant coordinator in the region and holds the annual event to honor donor families.
Hardison, 43, was a Senatobia tire shop owner and volunteer fireman when he was injured. A breathing apparatus helmet and mask melted on his head after a burning ceiling collapsed. His eyelids and ears were gone.
He was airlifted to the burn unit at the Regional Medical Center and stayed there for 63 days before doctors sent him home. In the ensuing decade, he had more than 70 burn-related surgeries.
He became interested in a face transplant in 2011, when his eye doctor warned him he was losing his vision because of the missing eyelids.
Hardison said he knew the surgery could kill him, but he never considered backing down.
"The only surgery close to mine was attempted in France and the patient died. I knew all that before I went in, but I was willing. All or nothing, that’s what I wanted to do. I bet it all," he said.
"I never wanted to back out. I had been miserable for 14 years by this time. Death is not the worst thing that can happen. I told the doctor that, I’d rather be dead than live like I was," Hardison said.
In his speech, he didn’t dwell on painful memories of living with a horrible disfigurement; the stares and cruel things people said when he went out in public; of having two young sons who had never seen their father's face.
Instead he focused on gratitude.
"Transplant, it’s great, and it gave me life," Hardison said.
"I can go places with my kids now. I went to Disney World last year and it’s the first time my two little boys had been anywhere where people didn’t say, ‘What happened?’ and all that stuff. They could tell something had happened, but nobody ever looked at me and said, ‘He got a face transplant.’ They just couldn’t tell it."
"It’s like she’s family," Patrick Hardison — the first extensive face transplant recipient — said of meeting Nancy Millar, his donor’s mom Time