Doctors at NYU Langone Medical Center revealed on Monday that they recently completed a groundbreaking and successful face transplant.
In a 26-hour procedure the transplant team at NYU replaced the heavily scarred face of Patrick Hardison, a Mississippi firefighter, with the face of a 26-year-old Brooklyn man who died in a cycling accident.
The surgery took place in August, but doctors could not call it a success until it was clear that Hardison's body would not reject the transplant.
The former volunteer firefighter suffered severe damage to his face in 2001 when a burning roof collapsed on top of him. He's since had more than 70 surgeries, grafting skin from other parts of his body to cover his head, attach prosthetic ears and better protect his eyes, since he had lost his eyelids.
This summer, he received news that the family of a Brookyln bike mechanic and bicyclist named David Rodebaugh was willing to donate their son's facial tissue.
What makes this procedure so extraordinary is that Hardison received not just a new face, but a new scalp, ears, ear canals, some bones from the donor's skull and eyelids, to give him the ability to blink again.
A similar procedure was attempted in France more than 10 years ago, but there were complications and the patient didn't survive.
"We have proven that the technology, the ability to transplant faces has advanced. It's advanced more than the science of immune suppression," said Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, plastic surgery chair at NYU Langone Medical Center. "So this is here to stay, it will not go away, and we can do this safer."
NYU assembled a team of about 150 medical personnel for the transplant and follow-up care.
The recipient will need additional surgeries in the coming months to better connect his eyelids and mouth.
Officials at Live On NY, the state's organ donor registry, say finding a match for Hardison was like winning the lottery. They had to make sure his blood type, height and age were compatible. They also had to find a donor with light skin, fair hair, similar bone structure and no anitibodies that would cause rejection.
While Rodebaugh was a registered organ donor, officials say they still needed permission from the family because face transplants are not a routine donation.