One year after face transplant, ex-firefighter sees new "normal"

Mississippi firefighter Pat Hardison was 27 in 2001, when the roof of a burning house collapsed on top of him. Friend and fellow first responder Jimmy Neal remembers seeing Hardison right after the accident.

“For somebody who does what we do for a living, I’ve never seen anybody burned that bad that was still alive,” Neal said.

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Former firefighter Pat Hardison, one year after he received a face transplant.

CBS News

For 14 years, Hardison battled pain, stares from strangers and a loss of hope, all from his disfigured appearance.

But in August of 2015, doctors at New York University’s Langone Medical Center transplanted another face onto Hardison’s head. The donor, 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, died in a cycling accident.

The surgery lasted 26 hours, and Hardison was only given a 50 percent chance of surviving.

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Patrick Hardison before his facial transplant operation (left) and in November 2015, nearly three months after the surgery

NYU Langone Medical Center

“It’s still almost unbelievable to me that we can do this,” said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the hospital’s head of plastic surgery.

Hardison did survive, and one year later, his life has been transformed.

“Now I’m just the average guy walking down the street,” Hardison said.

“People -- they can look at me and tell something’s happened, but they would never look at me and think that I’d had a face transplant.”

Before the surgery, Hardison’s oldest daughter Alison wondered why her father would go through with it at all, until she said goodbye just before the operation.

“He said, ‘I won’t have to wear a ball cap and I won’t have to wear my sunglasses. I’ll look normal whenever I get to walk you down the aisle,’” Alison said. “And that right then pretty much sealed the deal for me.”

“Normal has become a reality over the year,” Hardison said. “Normal was something I never thought I’d see again.”

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook