In September 2001, a then 27-year-old volunteer first responder from Senatobia, Mich., ran into a burning home on a rescue search. The roof collapsed on him, which resulted in severe burns across his entire face, head, neck, and upper torso. Patrick, a father of three, lost his eyelids, ears, lips, and most of his nose, as well as his hair, including his eyebrows. [Editor’s note: graphic images below]
After Patrick underwent 71 surgeries that left him with a small amount of vision, a fellow firefighter and church member reached out to Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, who had performed a 2012 face transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center. In August 2014, Rodriguez, who was now the chair of the Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, placed Patrick on a waiting list.
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While the medical team searched for a donor — someone who was a match with Patrick on certain biological traits and also had similar skin and hair coloring — Patrick stayed optimistic.
“I’m not nervous, I’m excited because I’m ready for everything to get going,” he stated in a video created by NYU. “I know He’s (God’s) got an angel out there for me somewhere and He’s going to call on him one day.”
One year later, the donor was found: 26-year-old Brooklyn-based artist and competitive bicyclist David P. Rodebaugh, who was tragically killed in a biking accident. David’s mom gave permission for the transplant, adding that her son had always wanted to be a firefighter, according to the Associated Press.
Donor David P. Rodebaugh (Courtesy Live on NY)
The surgery took place the morning of Aug. 14, 2015. It lasted 26 hours and required a team of more than 100 medical practitioners. The transplant extends from the top of the head, over Patrick’s skull, and down to the collarbones in front. In back, it reaches far enough down that only a tiny patch of Patrick’s original hair remains — its color matched by the dark blond hair growing on his new scalp. The transplant includes both ears.
“When we think about a new life, I think what most people want to hear is the drama of a new face,” stated Rodriguez in the NYU video. “But when you actually ask those individuals what is that they miss, you’d be surprised the things we take for granted every day that for them [are] a new beginning.”
In the statement released by the AP, Rodriguez said that in the future, “a casual observer will not notice anything that is odd” in Patrick’s new face, which will blend features of his original face and the donor’s.
(Photo courtesy NYU Langone)
At a news conference held this morning — day 93 of Patrick’s recovery — Rodriguez explained that no surgery has been this extensive before. For example, this was the first time that eyelids have been transplanted. “This provides great hope for certain individuals,” he stated.
Patrick “is doing very well for day 93,” he added. It was also announced that Patrick, who will return to NYU each month for routine visits and will be on immunosuppressant meds for life, had an emotional experience when a few people from the medial team took him to Macy’s. “For him it was so remarkable that no one stared at him,” said Rodriguez.
While Patrick cannot return to firefighting, his current goals are to “start driving again” and to become a motivational speaker, perhaps working with wounded veterans. He has one simple message he’d like to convey: “Just how there is hope.“