17 Nov 2015

Firefighter given world's most extensive face transplant

12:01 pm on 17 November 2015

American surgeons have carried out the world's most extensive face transplant to date, including the entire scalp, ears and eyelids, they say.

Patrick Hardison before and after his face transplant.

Patrick Hardison before and after his face transplant. Photo: AFP

Plastic surgeon Dr Eduardo Rodriguez led the team which performed the 26-hour surgery to give injured volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison a new face.

The donor was 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, who was fatally injured in a cycling accident. The operation took place in August.

At the time, the team at the NYU Langone Medical Center said the procedure had a 50:50 chance of working.

Mr Hardison, who was injured in a house fire as he attempted to rescue a woman he believed was trapped in the blaze, had third degree burns to his entire face and scalp.

The 41-year-old waited more than a year on a donor register for a perfect match - not only blood type but someone with fair skin and light hair.

Two operating teams worked in unison, one preparing the donor and the other the recipient.

Three months on from the $1 million procedure, the father-of-five is healing nicely, although he will need to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life to stop his body's immune system from fighting the transplant.

Dr Rodriguez told a press conference: "The amount of tissue transplanted in Patrick has not been done before.

"He is doing very well today for only day 93 [post-op]."

The procedure has restored his eyelids and blinking mechanism and he now has a full head of hair, as well as eyebrows, stubble and ears.

Mr Hardison will need more operations in a few months time to remove some of the loose skin around his eyes and lips.

He said he was deeply grateful to his donor and the surgical team.

"They have given me more than a new face. They have given me a new life."

In 2005, a French woman called Isabelle Dinoire - who had sustained severe facial injuries after being mauled by a dog - made history by becoming the first patient in the world to have a partial face transplant.

Since then, more than 20 other patients have received partial or full face transplants at institutes across the globe.

In 2010, a Spanish farmer, identified only as Oscar, was the first to have a full face transplant. His surgery replaced the nose and lips but not the ears and scalp.

Dr James Partridge, chief executive of British charity Changing Faces, said an altered appearance could be psychologically difficult to adjust to.

"There are myriad ethical issues too, and we mustn't loose sight of the complexities by just celebrating a successful transplant operation. In many ways, Mr Hardison's journey is only just beginning."