On August 14, surgeons at New York University Langone Medical Center performed the most complex face transplant ever tried.
Today — November 14 — doctors announced that the procedure was a complete success.
Here’s how they did it, in a single and somewhat grisly animation:
Surgeons had to disconnect all of the veins and nerves that connected the donor’s face to his body, then reconnect them when they put his face onto the recipient’s face, Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, a plastic surgeon now at NYU Langone, explained at a press conference on Monday.
The surgery took a total of 26 hours and involved more than 100 people. The team had repeatedly rehearsed the procedure, which had to be perfectly synchronised. While one team removed the donor’s entire scalp, eyelids, ears, veins, skin down to the neck, and forehead tissue, another team was removing the injured tissue from recipient’s face. Then they performed the transplant.
It has been 93 days since Patrick Hardison received the transplant, and his body has not rejected his new face. He can now go home from the hospital, and return to a normal life.
A long journey to a new face
In 2001, Hardison was fighting a mobile home fire in Senatobia, Mississippi, when he got trapped inside. The flames melted his mask, and when the other firefighters pulled him out, his face was still on fire.
He spent the next two months in the hospital, and had more than 70 surgeries over the next decade. But the doctors couldn’t reconstruct his eyelids, ears, and more.
Then in 2012, Hardison met Rodriguez, and the two decided to try a full face transplant. Only a handful of such procedures have been performed before. The first in the world was successfully completed in Poland in 2013. And the first in the US was just completed last year at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
It took over a year to find a donor for Hardison, who had to have the same size face, same blood type, similar height and weight, and be fair-skinned like him. They finally found David Rodebaugh, with the help of LiveOnNY, a non-profit organisation that helps find and support organ donors.
Rodebaugh, who used to race BMX bikes professionally, was in an accident in Brooklyn this July. By August 12, doctors had declared him brain-dead.
But he was an organ donor, and his family agreed to let Hardison have his face. Rodebaugh also donated his heart, liver, and eyes, Helen Irving, President and CEO of LiveOnNY, said at the press conference. Those were successfully transplanted into other patients, too.
You can watch the entire video animation of the facial transplant on NYU’s website — though be warned that it does get a little graphic.
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