Patrick endured the agony of third-degree burns that ravaged his face and scalp, leaving him with extensive injuries to his head, neck, and upper torso. The unforgiving flames also exacted a heavy toll, claiming his ears, lips, a significant portion of his nose, and even most of his eyelid tissue.
In an interview with Fox News, Patrick recounted the profound shock he experienced upon first glimpsing his altered reflection. He said, “I didn’t actually see myself until probably November. I got injured in September. They had cut a little pinhole in one of my eyelids because they had everything covered, skin graft. I looked in the mirror and all I could do, I said, ‘this is it? I can’t do this.'”
Over the course of several years, Patrick underwent a staggering number of more than 70 surgeries and various medical procedures. His ability to close his eyes was compromised, and skilled medical professionals worked tirelessly to reconstruct flaps of skin, providing essential protection for his vision. Nevertheless, the threat of permanent blindness loomed ominously.
Patrick found every meal to be a tormenting experience, as eating brought excruciating pain. He struggled to acclimate to his new life, unable to confront his own reflection in the mirror. His presence in public drew relentless attention, with people’s stares amplifying his discomfort, even around his own children.
In an effort to shield himself from prying eyes and preserve his privacy, Patrick resorted to a perpetual disguise, donning sunglasses and a baseball cap. He also relied on an ear prosthetic to conceal the loss of his ears.
Reflecting on those challenging days, he shared with Yahoo! Sports, “I had kids. It was just a tough time. I never got a day off from the injury. When you walk out in public, it was daily. And, you know, it’s just so — there’s no way to explain everything. You go to the ball field, you have to prepare yourself for the kid that goes running off screaming.”
As the years rolled on, Patrick’s hope for a return to a normal life began to wane. However, a significant turning point came when a French woman named Isabelle Dinoire underwent a groundbreaking partial face transplant after a severe facial disfigurement caused by her pet dog. This pioneering procedure was a first of its kind and offered a glimmer of hope to Patrick, who was enduring a profound struggle at the time.
Patrick’s path crossed with Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez from the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, who offered a ray of hope by expressing his willingness to perform a face transplant surgery should a suitable donor become available. It was a challenging endeavor, but one day, seemingly out of the blue, a donor materialized. LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organization specializing in organ donations in the New York area, successfully located a matching donor. The face destined for Patrick belonged to 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, who had suffered a devastating head injury in a bicycle accident, ultimately being declared brain dead.
This compassionate decision was made by Nancy Millar, the young man’s mother, who chose to donate her son’s organs, including his remarkably preserved face. Nancy expressed her sentiments, saying, “I said, ‘You better save his face. He has the face of a porcelain doll.’ And he’s a donor — we had talked about it.”
The profound significance of someone receiving her son’s face resonated with Nancy, as it meant that David’s essence would continue to live on through the individuals whose lives he was about to touch, with Patrick being a prime beneficiary of this selfless act.
Recalling her encounter with Patrick, Nancy was struck by the immense strength and resilience she saw in him, reminiscent of the attributes possessed by her son, David. She remarked, “When I met Patrick, I saw this strength, this strong, manly, burly kind of energy in him — that David had.”
“David wanted to be a firefighter,” Nancy continued, “and I knew if this guy was a firefighter — he was willing to walk into a fire to save people and risk his own life — then he had the strength that David had.”
The highly anticipated day of the transplant surgery finally arrived, an endeavor that would last an arduous 26 hours and involve the coordinated efforts of a dedicated team of 100 medical professionals.
The magnitude of risk associated with the procedure loomed large, and Patrick’s chances of survival were a stark 50/50. Fortunately, the outcome exceeded expectations, marking a monumental success. Patrick underwent a transformation that included the acquisition of a new face, scalp, ears, and ear canals. Additionally, he received eyelids, which restored his ability to blink naturally and safeguarded his precious vision.
Reflecting on the profound risks involved, Patrick shared his perspective with Time Magazine, saying, “Everything in life has a risk. When it’s your time to go, you’ll go—whether you’re walking down the street and get hit by a car or you’re lying on the operating table.”
Once Patrick had recuperated from the swelling and reacquired the abilities to talk and swallow, he had the profound opportunity to meet the mother of his donor, Nancy. Her singular request was a simple yet deeply meaningful one: to kiss Patrick on the forehead.
Nancy recounted her emotional moment, saying, “I said, ‘Can I kiss your forehead?’ That’s the one thing I wanted to do because every night before David went to bed when he was little, I kissed his forehead.”
For Patrick, this meeting was the culmination of a year-long wait, and he expressed his immense gratitude, remarking, “I’ve been waiting a year to meet her. I’m just very grateful. Without her, it wouldn’t have been possible. It’s like she’s family. We connected that easily.”
This heartwarming connection between Patrick and Nancy underscored the profound impact of organ donation and the bonds it can forge between individuals brought together by an extraordinary act of generosity.
Following the groundbreaking surgery, Patrick embarked on a journey that involved the use of anti-rejection medications to safeguard his newly acquired face from immune rejection. Despite the medical challenges, he has not only thrived but also undergone a remarkable transformation, gaining not just a new face but an entirely new lease on life.
In his current chapter, Patrick is navigating a life that includes divorce and a compelling aspiration to pen a book. This literary endeavor is aimed at inspiring those who may feel trapped in seemingly insurmountable circumstances. As Patrick puts it, “Because I want to show the world that you can have hope. I wouldn’t want people that were like me years ago to think that’s it, I have to live like this. You don’t. You can accomplish anything.”
Patrick’s survival and recovery are nothing short of miraculous, a testament to the unwavering determination of a resilient individual, the remarkable efforts of medical professionals like Dr. Rodriguez and his team, and the extraordinary generosity of a donor like Nancy. Today, Patrick is a content and fulfilled man, living a life that defies all odds.