Health

US firefighter has world's most extensive face transplant

  • 16 November 2015
  • From the section Health
Media captionPatrick Hardison before and after the surgery

US surgeons say they have carried out the world's most extensive face transplant to date, including the entire scalp, ears and eyelids.

Plastic surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez led the team that performed the 26-hour surgery to give injured volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison, aged 41, a new face.

The donor was a 26-year-old, David Rodebaugh, who was fatally injured in a cycling accident.

The operation took place in August.

How to build a whole new face

At the time, the team at the NYU Langone Medical Center said the procedure had a 50:50 chance of working.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Patrick Hardison before his injuries

Mr Hardison, who was injured in a house fire as he attempted to rescue a woman he believed was trapped in the blaze, had third degree burns of his entire face and scalp.

He waited more than a year on a donor register for a perfect match - not only blood type but someone with fair skin and light hair.

Million dollar face

Two operating teams worked in unison, one preparing the donor and the other the recipient.

Image copyright AP
Image caption David Rodebaugh, who donated his face and organs to help others

Three months on from the million dollar procedure, Mr Hardison, a father of five, is healing nicely, although he will need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life to stop his body's immune system from fighting the transplant.

Dr Rodriguez estimates that no more than five of the other patients who have received facial transplants around the world died after the new tissue was rejected.

He told a press conference: "The amount of tissue transplanted in Patrick has not been done before.

"He is doing very well today for only day 93 [post-op]."

The procedure has restored his eyelids and blinking mechanism and he now has a full head of hair, as well as eyebrows, stubble and ears.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Patrick Hardison before and after the transplant

Mr Hardison will need more operations in a few months time to remove some of the loose skin around his eyes and lips.

Mr Hardison says he is deeply grateful to his donor and the surgical team.

"They have given me more than a new face. They have given me a new life."

In 2005, a French woman called Isabelle Dinoire - who had sustained severe facial injuries after being mauled by a dog - made history by becoming the first patient in the world to have a partial face transplant.

Since then, more than 20 other patients have received partial or full face transplants at institutes across the globe.

In 2010, a Spanish farmer, identified only as Oscar, was the first to have a full face transplant. His surgery replaced the nose and lips, but not the ears and scalp.

Dr James Partridge, Chief Executive of the UK charity Changing Faces, said an altered appearance can be psychologically difficult to adjust to.

"There are myriad ethical issues too, and we mustn't lose sight of the complexities by just celebrating a successful transplant operation. In many ways, Mr Hardison's journey is only just beginning."

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