This Cuban-American Doctor Performed the World’s Most Mind-Blowing, Extensive Face Transplant Ever

Lead Photo: NYU Langone Medical Center/Reuters

Earlier this year, a team of 150 led by Cuban-American Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez performed a 26-hour face transplant on volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison, 41. Hardison’s face was burned off during a home fire rescue in 2001, and he underwent the world’s most extensive face transplant at the New York University Langone Medical Center, Dr. Rodriguez announced in a press conference on Monday, according to Reuters.

Hardison received 26-year-old David Rodebaugh’s face, who was pronounced brain dead after a BMX-related accident. As a result of the transplant, Hardison is now able to blink and close his eyes when he sleeps for the first time in years.

The Washington Post reports that Hardison had 70 surgeries involving grafts from his legs and face previously, but he was still disfigured. He ended up trying to cover his face with a baseball cap and sunglasses, and it was unbearable to speak or eat.

The surgery was incredibly complicated, requiring the medical team to practice for nearly a year beforehand. “You only have one chance to land the Rover,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “The same goes with the face.” Hardison’s surgery included the scalp, nose, ear canals, eyelids, and even the muscles that make blinking possible.

There’s a high chance of dying during the surgery, and afterward, there’s a chance the body will reject the transplant, which is why patients must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives.

For Hardison, there were signs that the transplant had worked right away, because circulation was flowing to his lips and ears. Three months later, Hardison is getting back to his everyday life. “When I met Patrick and heard his story, I knew that I had to do all I could to help him,” Dr. Rodriguez said, and he said that one of the biggest highlights for him is that Hardison was able to go to Macy’s to buy clothes without people staring at him.

“I am deeply grateful to my donor and his family,” Hardison said. “Even though I did not know who they would be, I prayed for them every day, knowing the difficult decision they would have to make in order to help me. I hope they see in me the goodness of their decision.”