The ‘most extensive’ face transplant in history gives firefighter new life

Updated 5:36 PM EST, Mon November 16, 2015
Now playing
01:49
Firefighter recovering from historic face transplant surgery
WDAF
Now playing
00:51
Boy survives falling onto meat skewer
Courtesy PAUL VINCENT KUNTZ
Now playing
01:18
Baby removed from womb for surgery, then returned
Courtesy Danbury Hospital
Now playing
01:07
132-pound ovarian tumor removed from woman
A young ballerina survives a brain tumor_00033629.jpg
A young ballerina survives a brain tumor_00033629.jpg
Now playing
03:38
A young ballerina survives a brain tumor
Jérôme Hamon, 43, before his first face transplantation surgery (on left), after his first transplantation (middle), and then after his second transplantation (on right)
HEGP AP-HP
Jérôme Hamon, 43, before his first face transplantation surgery (on left), after his first transplantation (middle), and then after his second transplantation (on right)
Now playing
00:58
The man with three faces
courtesy melanie unger/stony brook children's hospital
Now playing
01:12
Backward leg allows cancer survivor to dance
Peruvian Health Ministry
Now playing
01:03
35-pound tumor found in woman's abdomen
Mom hears son heartbeat after death orig vstan dlewis_00000000.jpg
Donate Life Arizona
Mom hears son heartbeat after death orig vstan dlewis_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:30
Mom hears son's heartbeat after his death
Teen awakes with new heart orig vstan dlewis_00010519.jpg
Philip Sullivan
Teen awakes with new heart orig vstan dlewis_00010519.jpg
Now playing
01:18
Emotional moment teen realizes he's alive
cohen flu attacks four year olds heart dnt newday_00025717.jpg
cohen flu attacks four year olds heart dnt newday_00025717.jpg
Now playing
03:11
Flu stops 4-year-old's heart
dnt baby born after mothers fatal brain bleed_00004820.jpg
Facebook
dnt baby born after mothers fatal brain bleed_00004820.jpg
Now playing
01:33
'Miracle' baby born after mother's fatal brain bleed (2015)
WABC/Lenox Hill Hospital
Now playing
01:42
Moroccan teen gets free, life-saving surgery in U.S.
Now playing
01:27
Baby brothers beat all odds after horrific attack
Rachael Farrokh anorexic woman transformation orig vstan_00000817.jpg
Rachael Farrokh
Rachael Farrokh anorexic woman transformation orig vstan_00000817.jpg
Now playing
01:04
Anorexic woman's dramatic transformation

Story highlights

Mississippi firefighter Patrick Hardison, 41, now lives with the face of a New York City bike mechanic, according to New York magazine

A plastic surgeon from New York University did the surgery in August

The firefighter will take drugs to keep his body from rejecting his face for the rest of his life

(CNN) —  

A 41-year-old volunteer firefighter from Mississippi now lives with the face of a 26-year-old Brooklyn bike mechanic.

A plastic surgeon at the New York University Langone Medical Center performed the “most extensive” face transplant surgery in history, according to the hospital.

In 2001, when Patrick Hardison entered a burning home on a rescue search, the roof collapsed on him and his firefighter’s mask burned onto his face, said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, who led the team of more than 150 staff members at NYU.

Hardison held his breath and jumped out a window.

He was left with disfiguring burns across his entire face, head, neck, and upper torso. He lost his eyelids, ears, lips, and most of his nose, as well as his hair, including his eyebrows.

Related: Face transplant recipient’s goal – a kiss

After Hardison had more than 70 surgeries, a member of his church in Senatobia, Mississippi, saw stories about a transplant performed by Rodriguez, who was then at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The church member reached out to Rodriguez, who later moved to NYU.

After waiting for more than a year, a donor was finally found: David Rodebaugh, a 26-year old bike mechanic who died in a biking accident on August 12, and whose heart, liver, kidney, eyes and bones went to other recipients.

Hardison’s surgery took place two days later. It required 12 hours in the operating room to remove Rodebaugh’s face and bring it to Hardison’s operating room.

Rodriguez and his team gave Hardison a new face, scalp, ears and ear canals, and selected portions of bone from the chin, cheeks, and entire nose.

He also received new eyelids and the muscles that control blinking, as he was previously unable to close his eyes completely.

Since 1985, 28 face transplants have been performed worldwide. There have been three deaths related to the surgery but with otherwise “encouraging” results, according to a study co-authored by Rodriguez and published in The Lancet this year.

Rodriguez said that three months after the surgery, Hardison is doing well and is on the path to a full recovery. In six months, he should be able to speak normally, he said.

The entire procedure, which was paid for by NYU, cost between $850,000 and $1 million.

Hardison told New York magazine that he will spend the rest of his life in constant pain, but to have a face of his own, “I can live with the pain.”

Yon Pomrenze contributed to this story.