He can walk in crowds without strangers staring and pointing at him, and children running away crying, frightened by his face.
About a year ago, the 42-year-old volunteer firefighter from Senatobia, Mississippi, couldn’t do any of those things. His face was severely disfigured.
Hardison suffered extensive facial burns after responding to a house fire in 2001, and he lost his eyelids, ears, lips, hair and most of his nose. He used baseball caps and sunglasses to cover his scars and hide from the world.
“I’d like to say that I’m the same old Pat, but that would not give enough credit to the amazing journey that I have gone through over the past year,” Hardison said at a news conference Wednesday.
“After my accident, my life was really hard. I hated life,” he said. “I’m here today because I want others to see that there is hope beyond the injury. I’m especially proud to share my story with other injured firefighters, first responders and US military. If sharing my story helps just one person explore the possibility of face transplants, then it’s worth it. … I have hope now, and I want to help those that are injured know that there is hope for them, too.”
Rodriguez and his team gave Hardison a new face, scalp, ears and ear canals, and selected portions of bone from the chin, cheeks and entire nose.
He also received new eyelids and the muscles that control blinking.
“So it was like I only had pinholes to see through,” he said.
Monitoring Hardison’s recovery over the past year, the medical team was amazed that his body didn’t experience an acute rejection episode, and his new eyelids continued to function normally.
“This is the third face that Patrick lives with,” Rodriguez said, after the face he was born with and the one he had after his burn injuries.
Hardison has had about four follow-up procedures, mainly to adjust his new eyelids and lips, to remove a feeding tube from his abdomen and to remove a breathing tube from his trachea.
Now, he enjoys being able to eat again. “I’ve gained about 30 pounds; look at that,” he joked.
Hardison has also vacationed at Disney World with his family and visited some of his fellow firefighters, who dedicated a fire truck in his honor.
“We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the swelling in the eyelids [and] mid-face … and swelling should reduce in the lower portion of the face,” Rodriguez said.
Meanwhile, Hardison has plans of his own.
“Looking forward to getting back to work. Hopefully I can do some motivational speaking some day,” he said. “God put us on the planet to live life to the fullest. That’s what I plan to do.”