Burned firefighter feels normal again after face transplant


NEW YORK (AP) — A Mississippi firefighter who received the world’s most extensive face transplant after a burning building collapsed on him said Wednesday that he feels like “a normal guy” for the first time in 15 years.

Patrick Hardison, 42, said he can now eat, see, hear and breathe normally, thanks to last year’s surgery. He even has a full head of hair and hits the gym twice a week.

“Before the transplant, every day I had to wake up and get myself motivated to face the world,” Hardison told reporters at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Now I don’t worry about people pointing and staring or kids running away crying. . I’m happy.”

Hardison was a volunteer firefighter in Senatobia, Mississippi, when a building collapsed on him in 2001. He had 71 reconstructive surgeries before the transplant.

While there have been nearly 40 face transplant surgeries since 2005, Hardison’s was the first to include a scalp and functioning eyelids. Doctors have since fixed up some features and removed his breathing and feeding tubes.

Hardison has no scars on his face, and although he resembles his old self, some of his features are different. His eyes are smaller and his face is rounder, but he still has sandy brown hair.

The divorced father of five said one of the best moments of his life was seeing his children for the first time after the August 2015 surgery. Four of his children attended the news conference.

His 21-year-old daughter, Allison, said she cried after seeing him because she was so relieved.

“After the injury . he wasn’t normal on the inside. He was very unhappy,” she said. “Now he’s happy with himself and happy with life.”

Hardison can finally drive and live independently thanks to his new field of vision. Previously, Hardison could see only through “pinholes” because doctors had sewed his eyelids partially shut to protect his eyes, he said.

Eduardo Rodriguez, chairman of Langone’s plastic surgery department, said Hardison has not had any issues with transplant rejection, which is due to his medications, his children and his strength.

“He’s a remarkable individual,” Rodriguez said.

Hardison said he hopes to meet this fall with the family of his donor, a 26-year-old artist who died in a bike accident in Brooklyn.

“I’d like to say that I’m the same old Pat, but that would not give enough credit to the amazing journey I have gone through this past year,” Hardison said. “The road to recovery has been long and hard, but if I had to do it again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

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