Nancy Millar paced nervously as she prepared to meet a man she had in no way observed ahead of, but whose face she would currently knew.
“I’m going to attempt not to lose it,” she mentioned, wiping away tears.
The man was Pat Hardison, who underwent a groundbreaking face transplant last year, which was only created attainable simply because of Millar’s choice to donate her son David Rodebaugh’s face and organs.
Rodebaugh died final summer following sustaining a head injury in a bicycle accident in Brooklyn, New York. He was 26 years old.
Millar wondered if Hardison's forehead would still show the chicken pox scar her son’s after had.
“He [Rodebaugh] applied to always just bend over and kiss me on the forehead and so we’d reciprocate it,” she mentioned. “As soon as he’d leave that’d be the final factor I do. I’d hug him and kiss him on the forehead. We did it because he was small, considering that he had chicken pox.”
Hardison, a 42-year-old former firefighter from Mississippi who lost considerably of his face, including his nose, lips, eyelids and even ears in a home fire, finally got the likelihood to thank Rodebaugh's mother in individual a few weeks ago. ABC News “Nightline” was there and has been following this story for over a year.
Watch the complete report on "Nightline" on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 12:35 a.m. ET.
“Thank you for being so powerful and so wholesome,” Millar told Hardison as they embraced. “Thank you for risking your life to do this. When I knew you were a firefighter I knew you had the strength to go by way of this.”
“Beautiful,” Hardison mentioned. “They did [the surgery] attractive.”
Millar took her time studying Hardison’s face, going more than each and every angle, noting his cheeks, a mole on a single side, and that old chicken pox scar.
“I am as proud of you as I was of my personal son,” she told him. “It's not David’s face, it's your face.”
From BMX Biker to Life Saver: David Rodebaugh's Story
Millar raised her son David as a single mom in Ohio. She stated he was a content kid who spent his childhood helping with his family’s craft small business and riding anything that went quick.
“I feel he could peddle a bike and reduce wood ahead of he could even walk,” Millar stated. “He had a critical, critical thing for speed… He broke some bones. But there was no fear in that boy at all.”
Rodebaugh -- Dave to his buddies -- worked as a bike mechanic and was an accomplished BMX rider. When he moved from Ohio to Brooklyn a handful of years ago, he discovered a new family in the bike messenger community and with a group who contact themselves the “Lock Foot Posi."
“Dave was without having a doubt like the greatest guy you never met,” mentioned Al Lopez, one of Rodebaugh’s greatest mates. “He had capabilities, like, abilities and capabilities.”
Rodebaugh even won the Red Bull-sponsored Brooklyn Mini Drome cycling competition in 2014.
“I would have provided anything to be there,” Millar mentioned. “He was fearless, and even till the finish he was fearless.”
In July 2015, about a year just after winning the Mini Drome competition, Rodebaugh was riding without having a helmet in Brooklyn when he crashed and hit his head. Soon after clinging to life for 3 weeks, Millar produced the difficult decision to let her son go.
Rodebaugh's memory continues to live on in the white “ghost bike” memorial placed at the scene of his accident.
“I just wish I could physically feel him,” Millar said, going to the ghost bike that honors her son. “He used to walk up behind me. And put these large ape arms about me and just sway back and forth and say, ‘I adore you mommy.’ And he had the most significant arms. He created me feel so safe.”
Rodebaugh was an organ donor and also a prospective match for an experimental surgery almost 15 years in the making, an unprecedented procedure to give Pat Hardison a new face.
A Firefighter in the Biggest Fight of His Life: Pat Hardison's Story
The two men's lives would intersect mainly because of a tragedy that took spot in 2001. Hardison and his second wife Chrissi had been raising their 3 children in his hometown of Senatobia, Mississippi. At 27, he was a successful salesman who ran the loved ones tire business enterprise, but his real passion was operating with the local volunteer fire department where he was a captain.
On Sept. 5, 2001, Hardison and his fellow firefighters responded to a residence fire, and when they arrived, he entered the developing with 3 other firefighters. He doesn’t keep in mind a great deal of what happened next, except the ceiling collapsing around him. By the time he got out of the inferno, he was unrecognizable.
Hardison was lucky to survive but the fire had burned away his scalp, ears, eyelids, nose and lips. His entire face was gone.
When he got dwelling after spending two months in the hospital, Hardison said his three youngsters, Alison who was six, Dalton who was 3 and Averi who was 2 at the time, were terrified of him.
He underwent far more than 70 surgeries more than the next decade to try to rebuild his mouth, nose and eyelids using skin grafts. He even got implants to assist anchor prosthetic ears. But every single surgery only gave him minor improvements and doctors told him due to the fact of complications he would eventually go blind.
Unable to have the life he wanted, Hardison became withdrawn and depressed.
Eventually, Hardison connected with renowned reconstructive surgeon Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, the chair of the Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Health-related Center in New York City. A pioneering surgeon in the emerging field of face transplants, Rodriguez took Hardison on as a patient, but it would be quite some time before they would find the suitable donor.
Not only have been they seeking for a donor that matched Hardison’s skin color, hair colour and blood variety, but the skeletal structure also had to be related.
Hardison was placed on New York’s transplant donor list in August 2014, and Rodriguez and his group started working closely with LiveOnNY, the non-profit organ procurement organization that matches organ donors with patients in and about New York City. With such a certain set of criteria, LiveOnNY president and CEO Helen Irving said it was the hardest search the organization had ever performed.
Just as Hardison was starting to shed hope, he lastly got the contact that a potential donor had been located.
Undergoing Groundbreaking Face Transplant Surgery
Rodebaugh matched all the criteria the surgical group had been hunting for, but mainly because face transplants are nonetheless experimental, they necessary permission from his household.
Helen Irving's group train for these delicate conversations, but they were nevertheless caught off guard by Rodebaugh's mother’s reaction when they asked her about donating her son’s face.
“She just -- instantly ‘yes’ came right out,” Irving said. “She knew straight away David would have done something to assist.”
The face transplant procedure is so extreme and so risky that Hardison’s doctors warned him he only had a 50-50 chance of surviving it. But it was a risk he was prepared to take for the opportunity to get his life back and get closer to feeling regular once more.
On Aug. 14, 2015, Hardison was prepped for surgery and wheeled into one particular operating room, whilst Rodebaugh's physique was wheeled into an adjacent room. Just before beginning, the surgical team held a moment of silence to honor Rodebaugh.
In a meticulously coordinated surgery, Rodriguez slowly removed the donor's face and scalp, like the outer skin, tissue, nerves and muscle, as the surgical team next door worked to remove the skin on Hardison’s face. With every single step, Rodriguez updated the surgical team working on Hardison so that the two teams would stay in sync, and then they placed the donor face on Hardison. Amongst the trickiest components of the surgery, Rodriguez stated, was connecting the blood vessels.
In total, the surgery took 26 hours to finish and Hardison faced a long recovery.
The Road to Recovery and a Tearful Reunion
It is been about 15 months considering the fact that the face transplant surgery and Hardison nonetheless travels from Mississippi to New York City every single month for verify-ups. He's the 1st face transplant recipient to go via the initial year with no rejection.
He's been enjoying having haircuts and shaving once more, two issues he wasn't able to do before the transplant.
“Just all that stuff that I thought would by no means be in my life once more,” he stated.
Every single day 22 Americans die waiting for a life-saving transplant operation, according to the American Transplant Foundation. Nationally, only 50 percent of eligible adults are registered as organ donors. In New York, exactly where Hardison was wait-listed, that number is closer to 25 percent.
In addition to his face, Rodebaugh's heart, liver and kidneys have been also donated, along with his corneas, bone and skin tissue.
“That's ... 4 lives for organ recipients,” Irving mentioned. “One for the present of sight and countless others by way of bone and skin donation.”
On the day she met Hardison, Millar also got to meet 3 other recipients her son had helped – 10-year-old Antonio Concepcion, Jr., and 17-year-old Nicholas Darling had received Rodebaugh's kidneys and 58-year-old Yanez McGriff had received his heart. All three had spent years on a transplant list.
Millar took turns meeting and hugging every single recipient. She even made use of a stethoscope to listen to her son’s heart, now beating in McGriff's chest.
“It's so strong,” Millar told her, listening to the heart beat. “God bless you.”
Realizing that her son had helped give all these folks a new likelihood at a much better, healthier life bought Millar some comfort following the tragedy of losing him.
“The finest day of my life was the day David was born. This is the second best day of my life,” Millar mentioned. “David’s reborn to me. He's back. He's right here. I knew he was here.”
ABC News' Geoff Martz, Meredith Frost and Lauren Effron contributed to this report.
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