US firefighter disfigured in fire says he feels 'normal' one year after face transplant

The recipient of the world's most extensive face transplant says he's 'feeling great' one year after undergoing the groundbreaking surgery.
Former firefighter Patrick Hardison speaking about his recovery at a press conference at New York University Langone Medical Center on Aug 24.
Former firefighter Patrick Hardison speaking about his recovery at a press conference at New York University Langone Medical Center on Aug 24. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - A United States firefighter who received a face transplant a year ago said on Wednesday (Aug 24) that he feels normal again and had even managed to swim for the first time in 15 years.

Mr Patrick Hardison, 42, from Senatobia, Mississippi, was horribly disfigured when the roof of a burning home collapsed on top of him in 2001. He underwent the complex surgery in New York in August 2015, when doctors told him that he faced only a 50:50 chance of success.

"My family and I took a trip to Disney World this past June and I swam in the pool with them. That's something I had not done in 15 years!" he told a news conference to mark the anniversary.

His new eyelids and ability to blink mean that his sight has improved and he can "once again drive a car" and sleep more soundly.

"No more stares from strangers. I'm pretty much back to being a normal guy, doing normal activities," Mr Hardison said.

He thanked his medical team and his family, saying that he wanted to encourage other people to explore the possibility of getting a face transplant.

More than 100 doctors, nurses and medical support staff took part in the 26-hour transplant last August at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

His donor was Mr David Rodebaugh, a 26-year-old award-winning BMX cyclist from Brooklyn, who died in a road accident. His mother agreed to organ donation.

Mr Hardison has had several follow-up procedures over the last year, mainly to adjust his eyelids and lips, and to remove feeding and breathing tubes.

He is scheduled to meet Mr Rodebaugh's family in the autumn, the hospital said.

Dr Eduardo Rodriquez, who led the surgery, said he was amazed by his patient's recovery, saying it had "surpassed all of our expectations".

Face transplants have become increasingly common since the first, partial face transplant was carried out by doctors in France in 2005 on a woman who had been mauled by her dog.

Mr Hardison will remain on immune suppressants for the rest of his life and still undergoes monthly check-ups in New York.