Patrick Hardison’s Transformation: A Face Transplant Journey

The tale of Patrick Hardison, who went from being a devoted firefighter in Mississippi to getting the first full face transplant in history, is one of bravery and resiliency beyond measure. Everything started in 2001 when Hardison was called out on a routine basis to put out a house fire. The call ended tragically, leaving Hardison with severe third-degree burns that left his face and neck deformed.

Patrick lived a happy life before the awful event and heroically served as a volunteer firefighter. But the structure fell in on him during that fatal fire. His mask melted onto his face as he was trapped beneath the rubble, severely injuring him.

Patrick described the horror as “my mask melting to my face.” “My hose was melted already.” Even seasoned first responders were shocked he lived given the severity of his injuries.


Hardison had more than 70 surgeries as a result of the severe burns to his face, scalp, ears, lips, most of his nose, and eyelid tissues. He was in excruciating discomfort and unable to eat, which made the possibility of blindness very real despite the physicians’ best efforts to restore functionality with skin grafts.

Patrick, who was in constant discomfort and self-consciousness, would frequently cover up his scars with a hat and sunglasses. Even being with his children emotionally became taxing, and life turned into a series of painful exchanges.


“I had children. It was just a difficult moment. The injury never allowed me to take a day off. Patrick talked about his experience, saying, “When you walk out in public, it was daily.”

Patrick’s hope was sparked when Isabelle Dinoire became the first person to have a partial face transplant. Fate intervened after meeting Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, who committed to carrying out the surgery after locating a suitable donor. Thanks to LiveOnNY’s efforts, 26-year-old David Rodebaugh—who had a devastating brain injury—became the ideal match.

Nancy Millar, David’s mother, decided to donate all of her son’s organs, including his face, out of compassion. “You had better save his face,” I said. His visage resembles that of a porcelain doll. We had discussed the fact that he is a donor, too,” Millar recalled.


Following a successful 26-hour process that involved a 100-person team, Patrick was given a new face and a shot at a new life, complete with functional eyelids and ears.

When Patrick saw Nancy after his recuperation, she insisted on kissing his forehead, bringing back memories of her bedtime routine with her son David.

Currently, Patrick takes anti-rejection medication, lives a grateful life, and is writing a book to encourage others who are facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “Because I want to demonstrate to everyone that hope is possible.” I would prefer that others who were similar to me years ago not believe that this is the only way I have to live. You don’t. Looking back on his life-changing experience, Patrick says, “You can achieve anything.”

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