VIA|Former firefighter Pat Hardison had his entire face burned off while responding to a house fire almost fifteen-years-ago.
The day that Hardison’s life changed forever started just like any other day, he told ABC News:
‘It was just a normal day. Just like every other fire…we went in looking for a lady.’
But as Hardison entered the house with three fellow firefighters, the ceiling collapsed around him:
“[My mask] was melting to my face. My hose [was] already melted.”
The only reason Hardison survived the fire was due to the fact that when he took off his mask, he closed his eyes and held his breath—otherwise, the smoke would have destroyed his eyesight and lungs.
Afterwards he spent 63 days in the hospital, where doctors attempted to give him the best resemblance of a face possible.
But still, he had lost his ears, lips, most of his nose and virtually all of his eyelid tissue:
When Hardison returned home, his kids didn’t even recognize him and were frightened when they saw him:
“My kids were scared of me. You can’t blame them. They’re young kids.”
When random children would see him, they “ran screaming and crying when they saw me.”
It wounded him deeply:
“There are things worse than dying.”
In the next 14 years, he underwent 71 operations.
The stress became too much for him and his wife, and despite having two more children after the surgery, Hardison and his wife divorced.
Then, in 2014 Hardison, came across his first glimmer of hope in a long time.
A church friend of Hardison wrote to Dr. Rodriguez, who had performed a 2012 face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and upon hearing about Hardison’s story, Dr. Rodriguez agreed to help.
They still had to find a match, however, and that included finding a person with the right skin color, hair color, blood type and skeletal structure.
Even with that, Hardison only had a 50/50 chance of surviving the surgery.
Then a year later, former BMX rider David Rodebaugh, who had become brain dead during a biking accident, came up as a match:
A representative with LiveOnNY approached Rodebaugh’s mother about donating his organs. After finding out her son was a match, she accepted. She even said that Rodebaugh had always wanted to be a firefighter.
Now the technical part of it all came into play.
Hardison was about to be given a brand new face in the most extensive transplant ever performed.
Dr. Rodriguez had to remove Rodebaugh’s face and scalp, including the outer skin, tissue, nerves and muscle.
They would then place the donor’s face on Hardison’s face and connect the blood vessels.
The surgery took 26 hours to complete, and Hardison’s recovery took several months, but it was a success:
Hardison had the surgery three months ago, and while Dr. Rodriguez has a few more minor procedures, Hardison can already see a huge difference in his everyday life:
‘I used to get stared at all the time, but now I’m just an average guy.’
Hardison hopes to become a motivational speaker and give inspiration to wounded veterans.
He even plans to get his drivers license again.