Over the next 12 years, Hardison would undergo 71 surgeries. His face was totally destroyed by the fire; he had lost his ears, hair, his eyelids and nose, his lips. Doctors took skin from his thighs and stretched it over his skull to give him the semblance of a face, they even attached prosthetic ears and turned his lips inside out to resemble a mouth, but he refused to look in a mirror for months. He received a meager $1,200 a month in disability, but it wasn’t nearly enough to cover medical bills and living expenses. He and his wife lost their dream home and cars–lost their freedom–but that didn’t stop them from having more children and opening a new business.
Things seemed okay, until depression and an addiction to painkillers led Hardison to lose his business. He and his wife divorced in 2008. He was left with almost nothing, except the promise of one doctor that he would get his life back, starting with a new face.
Eduardo Rodriguez became the chair of plastic surgery at NYU’s Langone Medical Center in 2013. A gifted surgeon, he had previously performed a successful face transplant and was now establishing a team at NYU to perfect the procedure.
Rodriguez had met Patrick Hardison in 2012, when he promised him that he would find him a new face. Over the years, Hardison was offered two faces from donors; the first belonged to a Hispanic man with dark skin, and the second belonged to a woman. Hardison and his family couldn’t go through with either.
Both men knew that there was only a 50% success rate to the surgery. Even if Hardison’s body accepted the transplant initially, it would only be a matter of time before a rejection would happen and Hardison would have to hope that immunosuppressants and steroids would help him through it.
Medicine aside, there was still the very real issue of how Patrick’s children, family, and loved ones would react to seeing him with a new face. Until now, he was trapped in a mask, a mask that scared away strangers and frightened kids on the street. But a new face might also mean a new identity. Is that what Hardison wanted? After 14 years of hell, he was willing to try anything.
48 hours after David Rodebaugh was declared dead this past summer, Patrick Hardison flew to New York City and surgery began under the careful hands of Dr. Rodriguez. 26 hours into the surgery, Hardison successfully had a new face, that of a dedicated Brooklyn bicyclist who in his final wishes had given away his body to save others. Rodebaugh’s status as an organ donor also ensured that his liver, kidneys, and eyes went to people in need.
Despite some blood loss and major swelling, Hardison’s family came to visit him. One son remarked, “When I see his face, I want to memorize it, so the next time I see him, I know it’s my dad.”
As for Rodebaugh’s mother and girlfriend, neither woman could recognize the face of their lost love one on the new man. It had changed, molded to Hardison’s bone structure, become him. Rodebaugh may be gone, but his selflessness would forever go on as a living, visceral part of those lives he touched through an anonymous–and yet deeply personal–bond.
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