Patrick Hardison was working as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Senatobia, 40 miles south of Memphis, when he got a desperate call. A house was in flames, with a woman trapped inside. Hardison arrived on the scene and raced inside, moments before the roof suddenly collapsed. His helmet was knocked off, and he felt his mask melting. He closed his eyes and jumped out the window.
Hardison lost his eyelids, ears, lips and most of his nose, as well as his hair, because of that fire. He also had disfiguring third-degree burns across his entire face, head, neck and upper torso. His skin was so badly damaged that he was not even able to close his eyes completely.
"From that day on, Sept. 5, 2001, there was no normal tissue left throughout his face," Eduardo D. Rodriguez, chair of plastic surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in recounting the first responder's story.
In a press conference on Monday, the medical center announced that Hardison, now 41 and a father of five, had undergone the world's most extensive face transplant to date. The donor was a young BMX cyclist from Ohio named David Rodebaugh, whose family donated his liver, kidneys, and both eyes to help other patients. A representative from LiveOnNY, which works to match donors with recipients in the New York metropolitan area, said his mother didn't hesitate when asked about the face transplant and called her son "a free spirit who loved life."
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