firefighter running up the stairs in a burning house
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 10, 2024 ·  4 min read

Patrick Hardison received a new face after third-degree burns, this is him today

Patrick Hardison was a 27-year-old volunteer firefighter when he received the call that would change his life in 2001. There was a house on fire in his small town in Mississippi, and he went to rescue a woman trapped inside. But during his search, the roof collapsed and severely burned his face. Doctors managed to save his life, but he was completely unrecognizable. He couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror. But today, the 42-year-old has undergone a drastic face transplant, inspiring hope for other people with facial injuries.

Image Credit: ABC News | Youtube

“One huge scar”

After the fire, Hardison spent 63 days in the hospital. Doctors used skin from his legs to cover his skull. However, Hardison had lost his facial skin, ears, hair, lips, scalp, most of his nose, and almost all of his eyelids. Since blinking was impossible, doctors used skin grafts to cover his eyes, and cut a small hole for him to see out of. “I was almost totally blind,” he recalled. “I could see just a little bit.” [1]

When he went home, he could barely look at himself in the mirror because of his disfigurements, and he went on like that for 14 years. As one doctor summarized, “living this way is not living.” Still, Hardison tried to live a normal life, although people stared at him wherever he went. Hardison had three young kids at the time, and they were afraid of him at first. He underwent over 70 procedures and needed family members to help him eat and drive him to doctor appointments. He battled depression and painkiller addiction, his marriage ended, and his tire business closed. 

But then Hardison met with internationally acclaimed plastic surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriquez. “The type of injury that he had, there was no more that they could do to help,” said Rodriguez, now chairman of New York University Langone Medical Center’s plastic surgery department. The doctor described Hardison’s face as “one huge scar.”

Image Credit: Inside Edition | Youtube

Read: Livers can stay alive and functional for over 100 years across multiple donors and recipients

The 26-Hour Face Transplant

However, Rodriquez saw that Hardison had the commitment, responsibility, and courage required for a face transplant, a long and intensive process. Hardison had to undergo tests to prove he was physically and psychologically ready. Moreover, even if he passed these tests, even if they found a matching donor, his chance of survival was 50/50. The body may reject the transplant, even when taking immunosuppressive medications, and no one knows the long-term effects of such a procedure. But Hardison was determined to proceed.

The opportunity came with the tragic death of David Rodebaugh. The free-spirited 26-year-old was an artist and bicycling enthusiast, having won several BMX cycling competitions. But in July 2015, he died from injuries after a biking accident. He was an organ donor, and his family agreed to donate his face and organs. [2]

So on August 14, 2015, Rodriguez embarked on the most extensive face transplant. He and a team of almost 100 medical staff worked to remove Rodebaugh’s scalp and face — which included his eyelids and ears — and put them on Hardison. After a grueling 26 hours, the surgery was complete. His face was swollen for several months, but even so, Hardison began to thrive. He was able to shop for clothes without anyone staring. After further surgery, Hardison was able to see and blink normally. He was also able to live independently again.

Read: Teen Who Died Rescuing His Family From Fire, Saves 8 More Lives As Organ Donor: “A True Hero”

“There’s hope for everyone”

Image Credit: NYU Langone Health | Youtube

Fifteen months after the procedure, Hardison had a new life. “Everything has changed,” he said. “I’m able to drive, go swimming with my kids, little things like that I have been’t able to do for 15 years.” He even took his five kids to Disney World for the first family holiday in a long while. [3]

Image Credit: Patrick Hardison | Twitter

Five years later, Hardison hopes to encourage others struggling with injuries. “I’ve bought my own place, working on getting a house built. I’m working on a book,” he said. “Because I want to show the world that you can have hope.” He added that people with facial injuries as severe as his usually commit suicide. “And I understand that, but they also don’t have hope. They’re thinking, ‘you know, I have to live like this’ — but you don’t. There’s hope for everyone out there who has that type of injury.[4]

Keep Reading: World’s first face and hands transplant gives man a second chance at life


  1. “Firefighter Patrick Hardison Adjusts to New Face After Transplant Surgery.NBC News. Lauren Dunn. November 17, 2015.
  2. “Injured firefighter gets most extensive face transplant ever.” CBS News. November 17, 2015
  3. “How The First Extensive Face Transplant Helped a Burn Victim Reclaim His Life: ‘Now I’m Just a Normal Guy — There’s No Staring’.People. Jeff Nelson. November 21, 2016
  4. “Firefighter talks new life 5 years after historic face transplant.Fox News. Yael Halon. July 5, 2021