It has been a year since Patrick Hardison underwent the most extensive face transplant ever performed. The former Mississippi firefighter, who was severely injured on the job in 2001, has been reported as “thriving” and has achieved numerous milestones that have allowed him to return to activities like diving and swimming.
Patrick Hardison: Quick Background
In 2001, Hardison was one of the firefighters who responded to a two-alarm blaze at a mobile home. During the call, the ceiling crashed down while Hardison was still in the trailer. His respirator mask literally melted on to his face and resulted in his lips, ears, eyelids, and much of the skin on his face and head being burned off.
The idea of a face transplant was proposed in 2015, after Hardison had already undergone 71 surgeries to try and remedy the damage. Once a suitable donor was found, Hardison underwent a complex, 26-hour procedure that involved over 100 different medical and support staff members. During the surgery, Hardison received a new scalp, face, ears, ear canals, eyelids, an entire nose, and bone for his chin and cheeks.
Patrick Hardison: One Year Later
Aside from the procedure itself being the most extensive in the still-burgeoning field of face transplants, Hardison’s progress over the past year has experienced three major milestones.
No Rejection Incidents
Even when on drugs meant to suppress the immune system, attempts by the body to reject transplanted facial tissue is a known risk that has plagued recipients of facial transplants in the past. Specifically, every facial transplant performed previously has been marked by at least one attempted rejection, making Hardison’s success in this area unprecedented.
The doctor who led the surgical team attributes this achievement to the care in selecting a donor as well as the inclusion of bone—specifically the bone marrow—among the transplanted items.
Eyelids Now Function
The success of transplanting the eyelids and blinking mechanism has been noted as especially important among the many elements of Hardison’s case. Blinking helps the body hydrate and clean the eyes as well as prevents infection. The 14 years Hardison spent without eyelids had rendered him unable to complete many daily tasks and put him at serious danger of losing his vision entirely. Now, Hardison has regained the ability to blink and with it has enjoyed significantly improved eyesight. Prior to the surgery, he was around 20/2200 vision. Now, he is roughly 20/30.
Removal of Tubes
Following the surgery, Hardison required feeding and breathing tubes in his abdomen and trachea. His rapid progress during the post-operative period and his dedication to daily exercise and staying on top of his medication has allowed for the tubes to be removed earlier than initially predicted. This was not the first time Hardison had defied expectations, either. It was first assumed that Hardison wouldn’t be able to open his eyes for six months after the surgery. Instead, he opened them after ten days.
Patrick Hardison has regained significant levels of independence and quality of life since the initial face transplant surgery. Aside from no longer attracting stares, he has been able to drive his kids to school and, when on a recent family vacation to Disney World, swam in the pool for the first time in 15 years.
Hardison has also begun to work with other injured firefighters and armed service members, in Mississippi and elsewhere, to help them pursue facial transplants of their own.
“One Year Later, Heroic Firefighter Who Underwent Most Extensive Face Transplant is Thriving,” NYU Langone web site, August 24, 2016; http://nyulangone.org/press-releases/one-year-later-heroic-firefighter-who-underwent-most-extensive-face-transplant-is-thriving, last accessed August 24, 2016.