A firefighter from Mississippi whose face became disfigured during a rescue attempt is the recipient of the world’s most extensive face transplant. The 41-year-old now bears the face of a 26-year-old man who recently died in an extreme cycling accident.

As reported in Reuters, the 26-hour surgery was performed by a 150-person medical team (!) from New York University Langone Medical Center.

Volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison received a full scalp and face, including ears, nose, lips, and upper and lower eyelids. Importantly, Hardison can now blink and sleep with his eyes closed, thus staving off the blindness that threatened him.

Patrick Hardison after the surgery. (Credit: NYU Langone Medical Center/YouTube)

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The face itself belonged to 26-year-old BMX enthusiast David Rodebaugh, who was pronounced brain dead following a tragic cycling accident.

More from Reuters:

Simultaneous surgeries took place, [Dr. Eduardo] Rodriguez said, with Hardison on one operating table while Rodebaugh was on the other. The NYU medical team had practiced for a full year to get it right.

“You only have one chance to land the Rover. The same goes with the face,” Rodriguez told Reuters following a news conference in New York earlier on Monday.

The team slit the skin at the back of the donor’s head, peeling each side forward with key pieces of bone attached at the chin, nose and cheekbone and then precisely draped it, like Batman’s cowl, onto Hardison’s head.

“Everything has to be perfectly positioned,” Rodriguez told Reuters, including the bones, muscles, ear canals, lips and nerves.

The $1 million surgery, which NYU will graciously pay for, was deemed a success after Hardison was taken shopping at Macy’s and no one in the store paused to give him a second look.

Graphical representation of the physical scaffolding. (NYU Langone Medical Center/YouTube)

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Rodebaugh’s mother, who gave permission for the transplant, was shown photos of Haridson after the surgery, telling the medical team that “Patrick is beautiful.”

I can only imagine how she felt after seeing the visage of her dead son brought back to the life in the form of this remarkable and ground-breaking surgery.

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[Reuters]


Email the author at george@gizmodo.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by NYU Langone Medical Center/Reuters