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Burned Firefighter Gets Historic Face Transplant

A firefighter gets new face in the most extensive face transplant in history. (VOA FILE PHOTO)

A firefighter gets new face in the most extensive face transplant in history. (VOA FILE PHOTO)

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

A hospital in the United States says a volunteer firefighter has received the most extensive face transplant on record.

Forty-one-year-old Patrick Hardison received a new face in what is being called an “historic” surgery. The surgery took place at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez led the team of 150 medical personnel that performed the 26-hour transplant surgery. Rodriguez told reporters that the operation is critically important for two reasons.

"The procedure that was performed on Patrick is critically important in that number-one, we transplanted functional eye lids, which is important for the preservation of Patrick's vision. Secondly, the amount of tissue that was transplanted had not been transplanted before."

The Washington Post reported that a grant from the NYU medical center paid for operation. The hospital estimates the surgery cost between $850,000 and $1 million.

Hardison waited a year for the perfect donor. The perfect donor would have not only a matching blood type, but fair skin and hair.

The donor’s face is from a 26-year old New York bicycle mechanic and cyclist. David P. Rodebaugh was pronounced brain dead after a biking accident in late July. Doctor’s declared him dead on August 14.

Two hours after the donor’s death, a team of doctors operated on the recipient, carefully removing Hardison’s face. Another team worked on the donor.

A nonprofit organization called LiveOnNY seeks transplant organs and tissue in the New York City area. This organization identified Rodenbaugh as a possible donor. He had signed up to donate his organs.

A spokesperson for LiveOnNY said Rodenbaugh’s mother gave permission to use his face. She noted that her son had always wanted to be a firefighter.

The accident

In 2001, Patrick Hardison was a 27-year old firefighter in Mississippi and father of three children. He entered a burning house to save a woman when the roof fell on him. He suffered third-degree burns on his head, neck and upper torso.

Hardison lost his ears, lips, most of his nose and nearly all of his eyelids. To protect them, doctors covered his eyes with pieces of skin. This left only a small hole for him to see out of. He was almost totally blind.

His face was one big scar. When he went out into public, he told Fox News, people would stare. He tried to stay positive. But, he said, life was hard. He has had a total of 71 surgeries.

Now, Hardison has working eyelids, ears, a full head of hair, as well as eyebrows and facial stubble, said his surgeon.

Hardison said his new face has already made a huge difference when he goes outside. He told Fox News that he used to get stared at all the time. Now, he said, he is just an average guy.

Hardison is still recovering from the surgery. He will have to take drugs his entire life to fight infections from the transplant.

But he plans to be home in time for Thanksgiving. The former firefighter now has five children, two of whom have not seen their father’s face until now.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo adapt this story for Learning English from several online sources including Fox News report by Malcolm Ritter and a BBC report by Michelle Roberts.

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Words in This Story

extensive adj. large in size or amount : very full or complete

transplant medical : to perform a medical operation in which an organ or other part that has been removed from the body of one person is put it into the body of another person

recipient n. a person who receives something

plastic surgery n. surgery that improves or repairs the form or appearance of body parts

criticaladj. extremely important

third-degree adj. causing severe injury

positive adj. thinking that a good result will happen : hopeful or optimistic

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