Trans­plant gives new face, scalp to burned fire­fighter

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

NEW YORK: A vol­un­teer fire­fighter badly burned in a 2001 blaze has re­ceived the most ex­ten­sive face trans­plant ever, cov­er­ing his skull and much of his neck, a New York hos­pi­tal an­nounced yes­ter­day. The surgery took place in Au­gust at the NYU Lan­gone Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The pa­tient, 41year-old Pa­trick Hardi­son, is still un­der­go­ing phys­i­cal ther­apy at the hos­pi­tal but plans to re­turn home to Se­na­to­bia, Mis­sis­sippi, in time for Thanks­giv­ing.

The surgery has paved the way for him to re­gain nor­mal vi­sion, and in an in­ter­view last week he said that will let him ac­com­plish a ma­jor goal: “I’ll start driv­ing again.” More than two dozen face trans­plants have been per­formed world­wide since the first one in France in 2005. Dr Eduardo Ro­driguez, who led the sur­gi­cal team that did Hardi­son’s trans­plant and re­cently wrote a re­view of the field, said Hardi­son’s is by far the most ex­ten­sive per­formed suc­cess­fully in terms of the amount of tis­sue trans­ferred.

The trans­plant ex­tends from the top of the head, over Hardi­son’s skull and down to the col­lar­bones in front; in back, it reaches far enough down that only a tiny patch of Hardi­son’s orig­i­nal hair re­mains - its color matched by the dark blond hair grow­ing on his new scalp. The trans­plant in­cludes both ears. The surgery be­gan Aug. 14 and lasted 26 hours. It left no scars on Hardi­son’s new face be­cause the seam of the trans­planted tis­sue runs down the back of his skull.

Skin grafts

The donor was 26-year-old New York artist and com­pet­i­tive bi­cy­clist David P Rode­baugh. He had died of in­juries from a bik­ing accident on a Brook­lyn street. Hardi­son was burned Sept 5, 2001, in Se­na­to­bia in north­west­ern Mis­sis­sippi. A 27-year-old fa­ther of three at the time who’d served for seven years as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter, he en­tered a burn­ing house to search for a woman. The roof col­lapsed, giv­ing him third-de­gree burns on his head, neck and up­per torso. He spent about two months at a Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, burn cen­ter. Doc­tors used a layer of skin from his legs to cover his wounded head, but he had lost his ears, lips, most of his nose and vir­tu­ally all of his eye­lid tis­sue. Since he could not blink, doc­tors used skin grafts to re­in­force what re­mained of his eye­lids and sewed them nearly shut to pro­tect his eyes. That left him with only pinhole vi­sion. “I was al­most to­tally blind,” he re­called. “I could see just a lit­tle bit.”

His face was “one huge scar,” Ro­driguez said. Hardi­son still went to base­ball games and did other things out­side, al­though peo­ple stared. He play­fully told curious chil­dren that he had fought a bear. Still, he said, life was hard. He en­dured 71 surg­eries. Even­tu­ally a church friend of his wrote to Ro­driguez, who had per­formed a 2012 face trans­plant at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter. The doc­tor said he would try to help, and in Au­gust 2014 Hardi­son was placed on a wait­ing list.

Ideal donor

“We were look­ing for the ideal donor,” one who matched Hardi­son on bi­o­log­i­cal traits to min­i­mize the risk of his body’s re­ject­ing the new tis­sue, as well as things like skin and hair color, said Ro­driguez, who by then had moved to NYU Lan­gone. A year later, Rode­baugh was iden­ti­fied as a po­ten­tial donor by LiveOnNY, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that seeks trans­plant or­gans and tis­sue in the New York City area. A na­tive of the Colum­bus, Ohio, area, he had signed up to do­nate or­gans. His mother gave per­mis­sion to use his face, not­ing that Rode­baugh had al­ways wanted to be a fire­fighter, said LiveOnNY pres­i­dent He­len Irv­ing.

The hos­pi­tal paid for the trans­plant op­er­a­tion, which in­cluded at­tach­ing four bone seg­ments to Hardi­son’s skull, as an­chors to pre­vent the face from droop­ing. Now, three months later, the lower part of his face re­mains swollen, but Ro­driguez said that will go away in a few months. With his new eye­lids and more surgery, he’s ex­pected to re­gain a nor­mal field of vi­sion for the first time in more than a decade. He will have to con­tin­u­ing tak­ing med­i­ca­tions to pre­vent his body from re­ject­ing the trans­plant. Even­tu­ally, “a ca­sual ob­server will not no­tice any­thing that is odd” in Hardi­son’s new face, which will blend fea­tures of his orig­i­nal face and the donor’s, Ro­driguez said. Hardi­son said his new face has al­ready made a dif­fer­ence when he goes out­side. “I used to get stared at all the time, but now I’m just an av­er­age guy,” he said. He’s been told he can’t re­turn to fire­fight­ing be­cause of in­sur­ance con­cerns, but he has an­other plan: mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing or some­thing sim­i­lar, per­haps for wounded veter­ans. His mes­sage? “Just how there is hope.”

NEW YORK: This com­bi­na­tion of Aug 15, 2015 to Nov 11, 2015 pho­tos pro­vided by the New York Univer­sity Lan­gone Med­i­cal Cen­ter shows the re­cu­per­a­tion of Pa­trick Hardi­son af­ter his fa­cial trans­plant surgery.—AP pho­tos

NEW YORK: This com­bi­na­tion of pho­tos pro­vided by the New York Univer­sity Lan­gone Med­i­cal Cen­ter shows Pa­trick Hardi­son be­fore and af­ter his fa­cial trans­plant surgery.

NEW YORK: This 1999 fam­ily photo pro­vided by Lori Tay­lor shows her brother Pa­trick Hardi­son, with his two daugh­ters, Averi, left, and Alison.

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