Surgeons have completed the most complex face transplant in history. But it’s the human story that’s important

Patrick Hardison was a volunteer firefighter from Senatobia, Mississippi. On 5 September 2001, he attended a rescue scene that one fellow volunteer later described as “the worst fire I’ve ever seen”. While attempting to find a person reported to still be in the burning structure, the ceiling collapsed on him. Although able to escape through a window with the help of a colleague, Hardison’s breather mask had melted, and his face was in a bad way. 

Fourteen years and 71 operations later, Patrick’s face remained extremely disfigured. He had effectively lost his ears, lips, and eyelids to the burns, leading to major reconstructive surgery so that he could have at least the semblance of a face.

This year, Patrick had what his surgeons describe as the most extensive and complex face transplant ever conducted. It’s a miraculous piece of medical science and technology – but more than that, it’s a human story of a man – and a donor’s family – showing incredible courage. 

Sometimes its worth remembering that science and technology can do these kinds of amazing things, and it’s about more than the latest smartphone. You can read more of Patrick’s amazing story, and that of the donor whose face was used in the transplant, in this New York Magazine article.

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Image by Eric Schmuttenmaer.

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