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Face Transplant Patient Stories

At NYU Langone’s Face Transplant Program, we provide patients with superior care from face transplant specialists who have performed the most complex and comprehensive face and double hand transplant to date. Our patients share stories about their care.

Joe’s Face and Double Hand Transplant Story

“I am very grateful to be given a second chance.”

–Joe, Age 22

In July 2018, Joe was driving home after working the night shift when his car veered off the road and flipped over. He survived but was left with third-degree burns on more than 80 percent of his body. Even after 20 reconstructive surgeries, his injuries—amputated fingertips, severe facial scarring, and no lips or eyelids—limited his ability to lead an independent life.

In March 2019, Joe met with Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez and his team to be evaluated. Dr. Rodriguez believed the then 20-year-old New Jersey resident was an excellent candidate for a face and double hand transplant—a procedure that had been performed only twice before by other surgical teams without success.

Dr. Rodriguez, who had led three successful face transplants, and his team began preparing for the complex procedure. Despite the challenges of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the team held monthly rehearsals to plan every aspect of surgery so they would be ready when the time came.

After the accident, Joe received multiple blood transfusions and skin grafts, which made his immune system highly sensitized. As a result, Joe had only a 6 percent chance of finding a compatible donor. But just 10 months after he was put on the wait list, a donor was identified.

Led by Dr. Rodriguez, a team of more than 140 physicians, nurses, and support staff began the 23-hour surgery on August 12, 2020, marking the world’s first successful face and double hand transplant. By following a unique immunosuppression regimen and close monitoring, doctors kept Joe’s body from rejecting the face and hand transplants in those first critical months after the surgery.

After nearly 14 weeks at NYU Langone, which began with recovering in the intensive care unit, followed by daily therapy at Rusk Rehabilitation, Joe was able to go home. He is returning to his daily routines and the activities he enjoyed before the accident, such as feeding and dressing himself, lifting weights, and playing golf.

“My parents and I are incredibly thankful to the donor and to Dr. Rodriguez and his team who have helped me get to where I am today,” Joe says.

Cameron’s Face Transplant Story

“The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it.”

–Cameron, Age 26

A California resident, Cameron enjoyed outdoor sports such as fishing and snowboarding, and worked as a welder and machinist. In 2016, he lost the majority of his lower jaw and his nose from a ballistic injury. He also had damage to his upper face, and the injury severely impacted his ability to lead a normal life.

When Cameron and his mother read about Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez and his patients’ successful face transplants, they were confident that he could help Cameron. Eighteen months after his initial injury, Cameron flew to New York City to have the surgery with Dr. Rodriguez.

VIDEO: Cameron Underwood’s face transplant journey.

Cameron’s procedure took only 25 hours—11 hours less than the previous face transplant performed at NYU Langone. Eleven weeks later—several weeks ahead of his anticipated recovery schedule—Cameron returned home to California, just in time to celebrate the 2018 Easter holiday with his family.

“[The donor] and his family made an incredible sacrifice to give back to me what had been lost,” Cameron says. “I will not forget that. I’m also eternally grateful to Dr. Rodriguez and his face transplant team. My family and I could not have made this journey without them.”

Patrick’s Face Transplant Story

“Now that I can blink again, I sleep better than I have in years—usually six or seven hours. It’s just like it was before the accident.”

–Patrick, Age 42

At the age of 27, Patrick was a tire salesman, father of three, and a volunteer firefighter.

In 2001, while working to put out a fire, he was seriously injured when a burning roof collapsed on his head. The accident severely damaged his eyelids, lips, ears, and nose, and left him with scar tissue from his scalp to his chest. Patrick had 71 reconstructive surgeries, but was still unable to close his eyes or eat without pain.

VIDEO: A year after receiving the most extensive face transplant to date, Patrick Hardison is thriving and has made a remarkable recovery.

Patrick was referred to Dr. Rodriguez and his team of more than 100 medical and support staff who provided Patrick with the most extensive face transplant performed to date.

“The surgery has truly given me back my life,” Patrick says. “I go about my day just like everyone else. It has allowed me to do things with my family that I had not been able to do. I can’t tell you what a sense of freedom it is to even drive my kids to school. We went on a family vacation to Disney World, and I swam in the pool with them—something I hadn’t done in 15 years.”