For the first time in 14 years, Patrick Hardison was an unknown face in the crowd last fall.
Hardison, 42, tells, “I went to Macy’s the day I got out of the hospital because I needed a few things.” “I immediately recognized the difference. Nobody was making comments or gazing at anyone. I was just there.
Although it could have seemed like a routine errand, Hardison’s shopping trip in October 2015 marked the beginning of his journey to reclaim his life.
The volunteer firefighter underwent the first extensive face transplant in the world to save his vision and regain some sense of normalcy after having lived with a disfigured face since sustaining serious burns in a 2001 accident.
Indeed, Hardison claims, “Now I’m just a normal guy.” “There’s no staring, no kids running off crying — that means everything.”
Patrick opens up about the terrifying rescue mission that left him disfigured, the painful years that followed, and how the life-threatening treatment helped him overcome his deep depression and gave him a new outlook on life.
A Tragic Accident
According to his ex-wife Chrissi Hardison, 41, Hardison was a tire salesman, a father of three, “a jokester and a people person” before the tragedy. He put forth a lot of effort, was a good provider, and enjoyed spending time with his fire department friends. He devoted a lot of his time to it.
But after September 5, 2001, the native of Senatobia, Mississippi, would never again live the same life.
According to Hardison, “I was at work when the call came in, so I went down to the firehouse, got in the truck, went to the fire, and started doing what we were doing. The day was ordinary.
Hardison and his team were on that apparently regular rescue mission, searching a burning house for a woman trapped inside when the ceiling fell on him. His safety mask melting onto his face was one of the last things he remembers.
His face was entirely bandaged when he awoke in the hospital. Hardison admits, “I knew I was injured.” “But I had no idea just how horrible it was.”
He and his family only realized how serious it was when the bandages came off six months later: Hardison had burned off all of his hair, ears, eyes, nose, and lips.
The daughter of Alison Hardison, 22, who was only 7 years old when she first met her father following his accident, says, “Your dad goes to work one day, and the next time you see him, he’s a completely different-looking person.”
“His voice was the same, but he had a completely different appearance. It was incredibly traumatic.
Traumatic for both Alison and her younger step-siblings, Dalton and Averi, who were 4 and 2 years old at the time, respectively.
Chrissi says that at first, the kids were terrified of him. That was challenging for him.
After the accident, Hardison had numerous difficulties. One of the most challenging was losing his freedom and needing the assistance of family members to eat and get to health visits because he was no longer able to drive.
In addition to healing from the injury, Hardison required more than 70 surgeries and skin grafts to partially reconstruct his eyes, mouth, nose, and other facial features. (He gradually became addicted to painkillers, which he has now kicked.)
Chrissi, who had two more children with Hardison (Braden in 2003 and Cullen in 2004) before the two got divorced in 2008, says there was a significant personality shift. ” No one could relate to what he was going through. Therefore he became more reclusive and introverted. He was really enraged.
So when Hardison discovered that there could be a possibility for him to change his appearance, he seized the opportunity.
He claims, “I had gone fourteen years without a face.” “You wake up every day for 14 years detesting your appearance, and you’ll do whatever it takes to change — and that was what I wanted to do.
A Prospect For Hope
Due to issues with his eyelids, Hardison was informed in 2012 that he might eventually become blind.
After learning this, one of his friends and a long-time physician both recommended that he see Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon and face transplantation expert who had conducted the procedure that year. Hardison was eager to proceed with the surgery after his consultation with Dr. Rodriguez.
“Death is not the worst possible outcome in life. I’m not scared,” Hardison says. It was for my children.
Although doctors only predicted a 50% chance of survival, his children were deeply affected by his decision to risk his life on the invasive treatment.
“I had to explain to them that living and existing are two different things.” Chrissi claims that after the accident, he had “existed but not truly lived.” He didn’t want to have to deal with growing blind and missing his children’s growing.
“I was like, Dad, why do you want to do this?” his daughter Alison says. To us, you are perfect.” I’m not, though, he replied. While leading you down the aisle, I want to appear normal.
A Revolutionary, Life-Changing Procedure
Dr. Rodriguez informed Hardison that LiveOnNY, an organization that matches organ donors and receivers, had discovered a perfect match for Hardison in August 2015.
David Rodebaugh, a 26-year-old bike mechanic and BMX racer passed away in New York City on August 12 from brain damage sustained in a bike crash in Brooklyn; his mother, Nancy Millar, 55, decided to donate his organs, including his face.
“You better save his face, I said. His face looks like it was made of porcelain. He is fit, healthy, and healthy in every way, even as a donor, according to Millar. ” We had already discussed it, so I had no concerns at all.
David met all the extremely specific requirements for the intended procedure, including blood type, skeletal shape, complexion and hair color, and on August 14, 2015, Hardison was carried into the operating room at NYU Langone Medical Center for the 26-hour process.
According to Dr. Rodriguez, chair of the Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, there have been about 40 face transplants conducted worldwide, but “Patrick’s treatment contains the largest volume of soft tissue that has been transplanted in medicine.” “The ears, eyes, nose, lips, neck skin, and scalp with hair are included in the front of the face.
A Fresh Start
The family felt relieved when Hardison’s kids paid him a visit in the hospital eight weeks following the operation.
Alison recalls, “I kissed his cheek.” He blinked his eyes and had warm cheeks. I hadn’t felt or seen anything like that in 14 years. He has been given the opportunity to try again in life, and he is doing that.
According to Dr. Rodriguez, “It’s a completely new life for him, something he thought would never happen.” “The most important thing is to observe his level of independence. Because he is no longer as restricted as he once was, his personality has changed somewhat.
15 months after his surgery, Hardison states that “everything has changed” and that he has not displayed any signs of rejection. ” I can now drive and take my kids swimming, 2 tasks I haven’t been able to do in 15 years.
He even took his five children — Cullen, 12, Alison, 22, Dalton, 19, Averi, 17, and Braden, 13 — on their first family vacation to Disney World this summer.
Being able to do the things like that as a family once more was a lot of fun, according to Alison.
Her father continues, “A year and a half ago, I had no idea that tomorrow would be any better. You have to maintain hope, adds Hardison. I am still here because of my kids, he said.
His offspring, as well as the selfless act of Nancy Millar and her son David Rodebaugh. Hardison finally had the chance to speak with Millar after the operation on November 7 in New York.
He claims that it would not have been possible without her. “It seems as if she is family. That was simple to connect. I’ve been waiting to meet her for a year. I just want to express my gratitude.
It was crucial to uniting them together, continues Helen Irving, president and chief executive officer of LiveOnNY, “so she could come full-circle and truly comprehend the gift that David had left behind.”
Hardison aspires to continue living his life and pursuing his job in the future, hopefully serving as an inspiration to others as a motivational speaker.
“I want to share my story with injured soldiers, first responders, and the common citizen who is hurt and has no hope, he adds. “I had no hope at all. I now have a different outlook on life. In order to reach the good times, you must push through the difficult ones.
We hope this story will help you to stay motivated in your life, no matter what happens.