Special REPORT: Face transplant, organ recipients meet donor's mother for very first time

Nancy Millar paced nervously as she ready to meet a man she had in no way noticed just before, but whose face she would already knew. “I’m going to attempt not to lose it,” she mentioned, wiping away tears. The man was Pat Hardison, who underwent a...

Special REPORT: Face transplant, organ recipients meet donor's mother for very first time

Nancy Millar paced nervously as she ready to meet a man she had in no way noticed just before, but whose face she would already 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 final year, which was only produced probable for the reason that of Millar’s selection to donate her son David Rodebaugh’s face and organs.

Rodebaugh died final summer time just after 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 as soon as had.

“He [Rodebaugh] utilized to normally just bend more than 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 point I do. I’d hug him and kiss him on the forehead. We did it since he was little, due to the fact he had chicken pox.”

Hardison, a 42-year-old former firefighter from Mississippi who lost substantially of his face, including his nose, lips, eyelids and even ears in a house fire, finally got the opportunity 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 getting so powerful and so healthier,” 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 through this.”

“Beautiful,” Hardison said. “They did [the surgery] beautiful.”

Millar took her time studying Hardison’s face, going over just about every angle, noting his cheeks, a mole on 1 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 really is your face.”

From BMX Biker to Life Saver: David Rodebaugh's Story

Millar raised her son David as a single mom in Ohio. She mentioned he was a content kid who spent his childhood helping with his family’s craft organization and riding anything that went quick.

“I feel he could peddle a bike and reduce wood prior to he could even stroll,” Millar stated. “He had a serious, significant thing for speed… He broke some bones. But there was no fear in that boy at all.”

Rodebaugh -- Dave to his mates -- worked as a bike mechanic and was an achieved BMX rider. When he moved from Ohio to Brooklyn a handful of years ago, he identified a new household in the bike messenger neighborhood and with a group who call themselves the “Lock Foot Posi."

“Dave was with no a doubt like the very best guy you never met,” said Al Lopez, 1 of Rodebaugh’s greatest close friends. “He had abilities, like, expertise and skills.”

Rodebaugh even won the Red Bull-sponsored Brooklyn Mini Drome cycling competition in 2014.

“I would have provided anything to be there,” Millar stated. “He was fearless, and even till the finish he was fearless.”

In July 2015, about a year after winning the Mini Drome competitors, Rodebaugh was riding with no a helmet in Brooklyn when he crashed and hit his head. After clinging to life for 3 weeks, Millar produced the tough choice to let her son go.

Rodebaugh's memory continues to reside on in casino the white “ghost bike” memorial placed at the scene of his accident.

“I just wish I could physically feel him,” Millar mentioned, visiting the ghost bike that honors her son. “He utilised to walk up behind me. And place these big ape arms around me and just sway back and forth and say, ‘I enjoy you mommy.’ And he had the biggest arms. He made me feel so secure.”

Rodebaugh was an organ donor and also a prospective match for an experimental surgery almost 15 years in the producing, 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 were raising their 3 kids in his hometown of Senatobia, Mississippi. At 27, he was a productive salesman who ran the household tire company, but his actual passion was functioning with the local volunteer fire division where he was a captain.

On Sept. five, 2001, Hardison and his fellow firefighters responded to a residence fire, and when they arrived, he entered the creating with 3 other firefighters. He does not try to remember much of what happened subsequent, except the ceiling collapsing around him. By the time he got out of the inferno, he was unrecognizable.

Hardison was fortunate to survive but the fire had burned away his scalp, ears, eyelids, nose and lips. His complete face was gone.

When he got residence just after spending two months in the hospital, Hardison stated his three youngsters, Alison who was 6, Dalton who was 3 and Averi who was two at the time, had been terrified of him.

He underwent far more than 70 surgeries more than the subsequent decade to attempt to rebuild his mouth, nose and eyelids using skin grafts. He even got implants to support anchor prosthetic ears. But each surgery only gave him minor improvements and medical doctors told him mainly because of complications he would ultimately 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 Betcup Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone Healthcare 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 pretty some time just before they would uncover the right donor.

Not only were they seeking for a donor that matched Hardison’s skin colour, hair colour and blood kind, but the skeletal structure also had to be equivalent.

Hardison was placed on New York’s transplant donor list in August 2014, and Rodriguez and his team began 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 specific set of criteria, LiveOnNY president and CEO Helen Irving stated it was the hardest search the organization had ever conducted.

Just as Hardison was beginning to shed hope, he ultimately got the get in touch with that a possible donor had been identified.

Undergoing Groundbreaking Face Transplant Surgery

Rodebaugh matched all the criteria the surgical team had been searching for, but because face transplants are nonetheless experimental, they necessary permission from his family members.

Helen Irving's team train for these delicate conversations, but they were still caught off guard by Rodebaugh's mother’s reaction when they asked her about donating her son’s face.

“She just -- right away ‘yes’ came correct out,” Irving mentioned. “She knew straight away David would have done anything to aid.”

The face transplant procedure is so intense and so risky that Hardison’s medical doctors warned him he only had a 50-50 chance of surviving it. But it was a danger he was willing to take for the opportunity to get his life back and get closer to feeling typical once again.

On Aug. 14, 2015, Hardison was prepped for surgery and wheeled into 1 operating area, though Rodebaugh's physique was wheeled into an adjacent area. Prior to starting, the surgical group held a moment of silence to honor Rodebaugh.

In a carefully coordinated surgery, Rodriguez gradually removed the donor's face and scalp, like the outer skin, tissue, nerves and muscle, as the surgical team subsequent door worked to remove the skin on Hardison’s face. With each step, Rodriguez updated the surgical group operating on Hardison so that the two teams would stay in sync, and then they placed the donor face on Hardison. Amongst the trickiest parts of the surgery, Rodriguez stated, was connecting the blood vessels.

In total, the surgery took 26 hours to finish and Hardison faced a lengthy recovery.

The Road to Recovery and a Tearful Reunion

It is been about 15 months since the face transplant surgery and Hardison nevertheless travels from Mississippi to New York City just about every month for verify-ups. He's the 1st face transplant recipient to go by way of the very first year devoid of rejection.

He's been enjoying finding haircuts and shaving again, two things he wasn't capable to do prior to the transplant.

“Just all that stuff that I thought would by no means be in my life again,” 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 had been also donated, along with his corneas, bone and skin tissue.

“That's ... 4 lives for organ recipients,” Irving mentioned. “One for the gift of sight and numerous other folks through bone and skin donation.”

On the day she met Hardison, Millar also got to meet three 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 3 had spent years on a transplant list.

Millar took turns meeting and hugging every single recipient. She even utilized a stethoscope to listen to her son’s heart, now beating in McGriff's chest.

“It's so robust,” Millar told her, listening to the heart beat. “God bless you.”

Figuring out that her son had helped give all these persons a new likelihood at a better, healthier life bought Millar some comfort right after the tragedy of losing him.

“The most effective day of my life was the day David was born. This is the second greatest day of my life,” Millar mentioned. “David’s reborn to me. He's back. He's here. I knew he was here.”

ABC News' Geoff Martz, Meredith Frost and Lauren Effron contributed to this report.

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