Why a Heartbroken Mother Decided to Donate Her Late Son’s Face to a Burn Victim: ‘I Have to Make Sure He Lives on Forever’

PEOPLE | Jeff Nelson

On Aug. 14, 2015, Patrick Hardison underwent the first extensive face transplant in the world 14 years after suffering severe burns that claimed most of his visage in a fire.

Fifteen months after the surgery, “everything has changed,” Hardison, a volunteer firefighter who lost his face during a 2001 rescue mission, tells PEOPLE. “I’m able to drive, go swimming with my kids — little things like that I haven’t been able to do for 15 years.”

On Nov. 7, Hardison got the chance to meet the woman responsible for his second chance at life: Nancy Millar, the mother of his donor, David Rodebaugh, who died of brain trauma sustained in a cycling accident.

“Without her it wouldn’t have been possible,” says Hardison, 42, who went through the risky procedure led by Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. “It’s like she’s family. We connected that easily. I’m just very grateful.”

PEOPLE sat down with Millar, who opened up about her son, why she had “no hesitation at all” to donate his organs and face — and how it felt coming face to face with the man who received her son’s face.

“I have to make sure he lives on forever,” Millar, 55, says.  VIDEO, Continue reading
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