For almost 15 years Pat Hardison shied away from society, terrified of the public’s reaction to his disfigurement. It was a deeply sad state of affairs for someone who has been hailed as a hero. But then a revolutionary operation changed everything.
Back in 2001 volunteer Mississippi firefighter Hardison was in a good place. With three beautiful kids and a successful career as a salesman, he must have been riding high. Sadly, however, it wouldn’t last.
One day, Hardison’s fire crew got called out to a serious blaze. Along with three fellow firefighters, he battled against the inferno. Suddenly, however, the ceiling collapsed – and Hardison took a direct hit.
As a result, the firefighter received serious burns all over his body. Indeed, he was in such a bad way that his colleagues didn’t even believe he would pull through. However, although he survived, the damage that the fire had done to his face was shocking.
In the extreme heat of the blaze, Hardison’s oxygen mask had melted onto his face, destroying his features. And, from that moment, he became completely unrecognizable, even to his kids.
“I mean, I left home one day a normal dad, leaving to go to work and just like that everything changed drastically,” explained Hardison in an interview with ABC News. “My kids were scared to death of me. You can’t blame them. They’re young kids.”
Hardison’s recovery process would be difficult and intense. In fact, he would have to undergo no less than 70 surgeries. What’s more, even after all that work, his face was still massively disfigured – and for a long time there was simply nothing else that could be done.
It would be a testing time for Hardison and his entire family. Naturally, he was self-conscious about his appearance and hated going out in public – and when he did, he was sometimes aware of unpleasant looks coming from strangers.
At times, in fact, Hardison even resorted to going out in disguises, covering up in sunglasses and a baseball cap in a desperate attempt to go incognito. However, a few years later, everything would change.
For 14 years Hardison and his family had lived with his disfigurement. Nevertheless, fate was to intervene. Yes, in 2015 another, separate tragedy would lead to a dramatic breakthrough for the former volunteer firefighter.
Tragically, 26-year-old New York-based BMXer David Rodebaugh was killed in a biking accident. But as a face donor, Rodebaugh would, in death, give one man a new life – and that man was Pat Hardison.
So, in August 2015, Hardison went under the knife. A team of surgeons at NYU Langone’s Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery in New York undertook what was billed as the most complicated face transplant in history.
All in all, the intricate procedure took an arduous 26 hours to complete. Meanwhile, more than 100 medics, including nurses, technicians, doctors and support staff, were involved in Hardison’s groundbreaking operation.
In addition to getting the deceased BMXer’s face, Hardison received Rodebaugh’s scalp, ears, ear canals and eye lids as well as portions of bone. Moreover, the end result was incredible. Indeed, it was a complete transformation.
“I get on up in the morning, take a shower and get ready to start my day,” said Hardison on the first year anniversary of the procedure. “I’m just a normal dad, and they don’t touch my face and say, ‘Oh my God.’ They don’t think anything about it.”
“There are no more stares, no more frightened children running away from me,” he added. “I’m pretty much just a normal guy.” It’s difficult to imagine just how much this incredible operation has changed his life for the better.
Up to the present time, there have been no rejections, and the operation has been deemed a complete success. Furthermore, Hardison’s doctors believe that the procedure could pave the way for hundreds of future transplants, bringing hope to many who find themselves in similar situations as Hardison.
“We are amazed at Pat’s recovery,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, head of the team which performed Hardison’s transplant. He added that Hardison’s progress had “surpassed all of our expectations.”
Since the operation, Hardison, now 42, has been able to do things that were simply impossible before the transplant. He’s started driving, for one, but the icing on the cake was a very special holiday.
Hardison took his family on a vacation to Disney World in Florida, and while they were there, he took a dip in the pool. It was the first time that he had been able to do such an activity since the accident. And it must have been another welcome taste of normality for a man who has been through a truly incredible transformation.