Nov 17, 2015 | By Benedict

A volunteer firefighter from Mississippi whose face was burned off during a fire in September 2001 has received a full face transplant, with the medical community describing the successful operation as an historic event. With the aid of 3D printed surgical models, a team of 150 medical professionals were able to pull of what has been described as the most extensive face transplant ever.

Earlier this week, we covered the amazing story of Alex, a 23-year-old man who, after having his face disfigured in a fight four years earlier, was able have part of his cheek and eye socket totally reconstructed without suffering any scarring to his skin. Today, news channels everywhere are reporting a similar but even more incredible story, concerning Patrick Hardison, a retired firefighter whose face was severely burned over 14 years ago. After a decade and a half of hiding his disfigurement, Hardison received a total face transplant on August 14-15; a groundbreaking operation unlike anything preceding it. Interestingly, the two surgeries were linked by two important factors. Both operations were aided by 3D printed models, which enabled the respective surgeons to perform with extreme precision. Furthermore, Dr Daniel Borsuk, the Canadian plastic surgeon responsible for the amazing work done on Alex’s face, had previously worked under the supervision of Dr Eduardo D. Rodriguez, the surgeon responsible for giving Hardison his new face.

Hardison before the sustaining his injuries (above) and before receiving the transplant.

Hardison, a former volunteer firefighter, was injured whilst on duty just days before the 9/11 attacks of September 2001. “It was just a normal day. Just like every other fire,” recalled Hardison, who had entered a burning home on a rescue search when its roof collapsed upon him, causing severe burns to his face, head, neck and upper torso. “[My mask] was melting to my face,” he explained. The tragic event caused the firefighter to lose his eyelids, ears, lips, most of his nose, his hair and his eyebrows. More than 70 unsuccessful surgeries later, the victim was still unable to live a normal life. All hope appeared to be lost, until a member of Hardison’s church sought the help of Dr Rodriguez. Upon hearing of Hardison’s case, the ambitious surgeon set about formulating a plan.

The planned surgery, unlike anything previously performed, was incredibly risky. Dr Rodriguez had told Hardison that he had a 50/50 chance at surviving the transplant, and despite its success, the patient will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. The procedure involved closing and reconnecting blood vessels and nerves, cutting away the entirety of Hardison’s scarred face, refitting new facial bone and “re-draping” skin across the former firefighter’s face. The incredibly complex surgery made advanced use of 3D modeling, computerized modeling and 3D printed patient-specific cutting guides, obtained from CT scans on both patient and donor, to provide the most harmonious fit. 3D printed cutting guides, also utilized by Dr Borsuk in his surgery on young Alex, appear to be becoming the norm for difficult plastic surgery operations, as they enable an unprecedented degree of precision.

Hardison’s revolutionary surgery lasted a grueling 26 hours. Beginning the morning of August 14, 2015, the session concluded the following morning. Around 150 medical personnel were involved in the pioneering surgery, including physicians, nurses, technical staff and support staff. That huge group was coordinated by Dr Rodriguez, MD, DDS, the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery. The team worked in two adjoining operating rooms, one containing the sedated Hardison, the other containing the body of donor David P. Rodebaugh, an Ohio-born Brooklyn artist and keen bicycling enthusiast, who died from injuries sustained in an accident.

David P. Rodebaugh, donor

Rodebaugh, a registered organ donor, had moved to New York to train in cycling mechanics, design and customization. He won several cycling competitions, and had a loyal following of fans thanks to his BMX talents. After being approaches by LiveOnNY, the organ recovery organization for the greater New York metropolitan area, Rodebaugh’s family agreed to the donation of his face, as well as his heart, liver, and kidneys. As well as having his face used to give Hardison a new life, Rodebaugh’s other organs will be given to other patients and to research.

Dr Rodriguez explained that the procedure, preparation and rehabilitation had cost between $850,000 and $1m, about the same as a liver transplant, and was paid for by a university grant. Three months after the surgery, Hardison is still learning to adapt to his new face, but the operation has been a massive success. The patient is undergoing physical therapy to build his strength and stamina, as well as speech and swallowing therapy as he learns to use his new mouth and lips. The small yet vitally important role played by 3D printing in Hardison’s transplant will have been noted by the medical and additive manufacturing communities alike, as lives continue to be saved by the technology.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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