In September 2001, 27-year-old Patrick Hardison was burned beyond recognition, his face melted off in a horrific house fire, his story in New York magazine begins. The Mississippi firefighter underwent more than 70 surgeries over 12 years, with every aspect of his life impacted. His relationship with his wife, Chrissi, became strained (they eventually divorced), their ample finances tanked (they had to sell their dream home and move in with his wife's mother), and he became addicted to painkillers. His only saving grace? The couple's kids, who Chrissi said "loved him unconditionally anyway." But Hardison was depressed, in pain, and anguished whenever people (especially children) pointed or ran away screaming at the sight of him. So when reconstructive surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez approached him about a groundbreaking facial transplant surgery Rodriguez had been studying and working up to for more than a decade (he had only done one other on a human), Hardison was all in.
He was warned the operation only had a 50% chance of success: "If it were to fail, there is no bailout option. You would likely die," Rodriguez told him. But Hardison jumped at the chance—"there are things worse than dying"—and in August underwent the 26-hour operation. The donor: 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, a Brooklyn bike mechanic who died a few weeks after a bike crash in July. Today, three months after the surgery, Hardison's body hasn't rejected Rodebaugh's face, but chances are it eventually will—Rodriguez tells New York that between three and five of the 30 patients who've had facial transplants have died after rejection—in which case doctors will "hope for the best" while treating it with steroids and lots of immunosuppressant drugs (which Hardison will be on for the rest of his life regardless). In addition, he'll always have "considerable" pain, and it will take time for his kids to adjust to their dad's new look. But Hardison has no regrets about his new face. "It's mine," he says. Read the entire incredible story here. (Read more faces stories.)