Doctors in New York have announced the successful completion of the most extensive face transplant ever performed, giving a volunteer firefighter a new nose, eyelids, ears, lips, eyebrows, and a full head of hair.
The procedure was performed at the NYU Langone Medical Centre over the course of 26 hours, and involved a team of more than 100 surgeons, doctors, nurses, and support staff, split between two rooms - the donor’s and the recipient’s. The recipient, firefighter Patrick Hardison, had lost almost all of his facial features and scalp back in 2001 when a burning roof collapsed on him in a rescue search.
Harrison’s face prior to the surgery might not look like much, but it was the result of more than 70 reconstructive surgeries that failed to give him some semblance of a normal life. His case was brought to the attention of head surgeon Eduardo D. Rodriguez, who led the world-first face transplant procedure back in August.
The donor was 26-year-old New York-based artist and cyclist David P. Rodebaugh, who died from from a biking accident.
To achieve the right face shape, Rodriguez and his team printed 3D models to use as templates for the donor’s face and scalp, so all the pieces could be fitted perfectly to Harrison’s skull. Custom-made metal plates and screws were used to further perfect the contour and symmetry of the transplanted face. Select bony structures were transplanted into Hardison’s face to rebuild the structure of his nose, chin, and cheeks.
But a face transplant isn’t just a case of neatly fitting the donor face and scalp onto the recipient’s head like a mask - everything has to be connected perfectly so circulation can be achieved and moveable parts like lips and eyelids can be manipulated as normal.
Not only were the donor’s ears transplanted, but his ear canals were also used to ensure that Hardison’s new ears don't just look great, they also work. Even before the surgery was complete, the team could see indications that they’d successfully restored circulation to Hardison’s new features, with the colour flooding into his lips and ears. His eyelids aren’t just for show - they’ve given him his sight back by restoring his ability to blink. "I was almost totally blind," he told Medical Xpress. "I could see just a little bit."
The procedure has been outlined in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
It’s been three months since the procedure and Hardison is reportedly recovering well. He’s had to undergo extensive physical therapy to build strength and stamina in the muscles in his face, as well as 'relearning' how to speak and swallow. He's started shaving again for the first time in 14 years, and his next big goal is to get back on the road and drive again.