Fifteen years ago, Patrick Hardison, then a 27-year old volunteer firefighter in Senatobia, Miss., suffered a massive burn injury to his face when he ran into a burning house and the ceiling collapsed. He lost his ears, lips, eyelids and most of his nose. Hardison made history in 2015 when he became the recipient of the most extensive face transplant ever. His surgery is part of an innovative and controversial shift in the field of organ transplantation, documented in the Sept. 5 issue of TIME. People are now getting transplants of organs that may not save their lives, like a heart, but can dramatically improve them, like a new face.
Before his face transplant, Hardison grew depressed, lost his tire-selling business, became addicted to painkillers and split with his wife of 10 years. He went under the knife 71 times to improve the look and function of his face, yet almost always hid behind a baseball cap and sunglasses. When his doctor told him that his lack of eyelids was destroying his sight, that was the last straw. “I hated life,” Hardison says. Read more