Dr. John Paul Gallardo want to say a big congratulations to Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez. In August of this year, Dr. Rodriguez made headlines for performing the most extensive face transplant ever. Dr. Rodriguez and Dr. Gallardo also happen to be childhood buddies. They met in the eighth grade and ended up rooming together during dental school. The practice of Gallardo applauds Dr. Rodriquez’s amazing achievement.
About Dr. Rodriguez
Like Dr. Gallardo, Dr. Rodriguez grew up in Miami. The son of immigrants from Cuba, he decided at a young age that he wanted to become a dentist, in order to earn money, be professional and have enough to support a family. It was during a residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at a hospital in the Bronx, New York, in 1994, that his path was set for him.
The program’s director, Dr. Arthur Adamo, told the young Dr. Rodriguez that he was impressed with Rodriguez’s surgical skills and talent, telling the young doctor that he was better than most people, and even better than Dr. Adamo himself. It was then that Rodriguez decided to expand his specialty, focusing not just on dentistry, but on reconstructive surgery. After his time in the Bronx, he went on to study at Johns Hopkins in Maryland as well as at a program for microsurgery in Taiwan.
Much of Dr. Rodriguez’s practice and work focuses on people who have severe facial deformities, either due to injury or congenital defects such as cleft palates. He’s treated people with deformities caused by cancer as well as people with skull or other skeletal abnormalities.
About Face Transplants
A face transplant is a relatively new procedure in the medical community. Dr. Rodriguez was first introduced to the idea in 2003, when another surgeon showed work she had done with rats, transferring the face of a brown rat to a white rat and the other way around. A few years after that, the first face transplant on a person was performed. Doctors in France transplanted pieces of another person’s face to a woman whose own face had been viciously attacked by a dog.
Nearly a decade after the French transplant, Rodriguez led a review of nearly 30 transplant procedures for the Lancet, a medical journal. He noted in his review that the majority of facial transplants performed were partial transplants, which didn’t seem to go far enough. Rodriguez questioned the value in only restoring a patient partway, even when the surgery itself had so many risks. He noted that putting a patient so close to death didn’t seem worth it, if a surgeon wasn’t going to go as far as possible.
In 2012, Dr. Rodriguez performed his first face transplant on a person. His patient was a man who lost his face to gunfire. Dr. Rodriguez not only replaced that patient’s face, but also his jaw, teeth and tongue, making it the first surgery to do so.
About the Patient
Dr. Rodriguez’s patient, Patrick Hardison, is a 41-year-old former firefighter in Mississippi. In 2001, Hardison was fighting a fire when the roof collapsed, causing his mask to melt to his face. Although he survived the fire, he lost his nose, ears, lips, eyelids and much of his facial hair.
Before a member of Hardison’s church heard about the work of Dr. Rodriguez and contacted him, Hardison had already had 70 surgeries. Rodriguez agreed to perform the transplant, warning Hardison that it would be the most extensive ever performed and that the chance of success was just 50%. NYU agreed to cover the cost of the procedure, which was estimated to be up to $1 million.
Hardison’s donor was 26-year-old David Rodebaugh, who died in a bike accident just a few days before the surgery. Rodriguez was able to transplant Rodebaugh’s face, ear and ear canals, scalp, and certain facial bones, including the nose, to Hardison’s face. Hardison also received new eyelids and is now able to blink once again.
It took about 26 hours to perform the entire procedure and required a team of more than 100. Three months after the face transplant, Hardison is doing fine. Dr. Rodriguez expects that he’ll make a full recovery. It’s expected that he’ll regain normal speech within six months.
Dr. Rodriguez’s work has shown the great good that reconstructive surgery can do for a person. Again, a big round of applause to him for such a terrific accomplishment!