♪ so write it down this one gone astray ♪ this is a special edition of "nightline." "brave: face to face." tonight an extraordinary meeting. the mother of a donor in a ground-breaking face transplant for the first time meeting the man who received her son's face. >> hopefully she's not going to regret her decision of doing this. >> a second chance for a courageous firefighter burned in the line of duty. >> it's a miracle, a god-given miracle. >> and the other grateful souls. >> look at you. >> saved by her son's gift of life. >> i would love to hear your heart. >> right there. >> oh my god. >> tonight the emotional encounters -- >> i'm going to try not to lose it. >> drama, tension, and anticipation spill over. this special edition of
the part of a grieving mother. over a year later nancy millar is coming face to face with the man whose bravery made this moment. here's my "nightline" coanchor juju chang. >> reporter: just up those stairs is a man nancy millar has never met. >> what's going through your mind? >> reporter: but his face she already knows. >> i'm going to try not to lose it. >> reporter: it belongs to pat haddison, recipient of a ground-breaking face transplant. >> there's no way to describe the thanks and the gratitude that i have. >> reporter: the donor, nancy's son, david. tonight she's going to meet some of the people whose lives he saved and come face to face with pat for the very first time. >> it's going to be emotional on both ends. >> no more tears. happy tears, happy tears, happy tears. >> here i come. >> all right. >> now i believe we have
candles -- >> reporter: it's been more than a year since nancy lost her son dave. >> grab a couple of bouquets. we were really close, almost like we were twins. >> reporter: she raised him as a single mother. their tight bond forged while they traveled the country working together at craft fairs. >> he liked to create. he knew how to do just about everything. he had a serious, serious thing for speed. >> riding fixed gear for probably 10, 12 years. >> reporter: his love of bicycles brought him to new york where he worked as a bike mechanic. >> i've been riding my whole life. it started out when i could walk. my parents bought me a 12-inch ninja turtles huffy bike. started taking that off wooden bumps, busting my eyes open, breaking bones, been doing it since. >> there was no fear in that boy. >> reporter: the group he rode with becoming much more than friends. >> it's like a family outside of a family. everyone looks out for everyone. it's a pretty tight-knit group of people.
>> reporter: al lopes was one of them. >> dave was without a doubt like the best guy you never met. >> reporter: flying through the air, defying gravity, that's david ripping around the crack at a red bull-sponsored race in 2014. >> kind of like, gas it, not think about it, just go, go, go. >> reporter: a year after winning that race, dave suffered a head injury in a bike accident while riding home from work. he wasn't wearing a helmet. after clinging to life for more than three weeks, nancy made the heartbreaking decision to let him go. but david would live on in the tiny mementos and the big memorials his friends set up and in the countless people whose lives were about to change. >> this was all meant to be somehow. i think he knew he was going to be giving. >> reporter: dave had chosen to be an organ donor and he was also a perfect match for an experimental surgery nearly 15 years in the making. an unprecedented procedure to give pat hartison a new face.
the volunteer firefighter and father from mississippi ran into a burning house searching for survivors when the roof collapsed. >> you know daddy left one way, when i came back home i was a totally different person. >> reporter: he was lucky to survive but the fire robbed him of his scalp, ear, nose. his lips were also gone. his daughter alison was 6 at the time. >> i remember going out to the house and my mom and stepdad literally had to drag me in the house because i was scared. >> reporter: while his devastated family and friends adjusted over time, pat never could. he became withdrawn, depressed. doctors told him he would ultimately go blind. >> take off your ears for me for a second. >> reporter: desperation led him to dr. eduardo rodriguez at nyu's langdon medical center. >> the reality is we can make you much worse than you are now. if this were not to work, we've
actually made you worse than you were before. so you completely understand this, right? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: willing to risk his life. >> it's in god's hands. it will happen when he's ready for it to happen. >> reporter: the father of five well aware that his surgery would only be possible with another family's loss. >> i pray for them daily because i cannot imagine losing somebody at a young age and then having to be asked to give what they're asking to give. >> reporter: it took two years to find the right donor, nancy millar's son david. because face transplants are still experimental, they first needed nancy to agree. >> when the doctors asked me if i would donate his face -- i said, of course. and of course at the time i was thinking just parts of his face. and they said, no, we mean the whole face. and they looked at me and they -- i said, of course. i mean, no hesitation.
it didn't matter. >> reporter: just two days later -- pat is wheeled into surgery. it takes 12 hours to remove the donor's face. >> face is going to the other room now. >> reporter: dr. rodriguez spaerls into patrick's o.r. it will take another 14 hours to complete this surgery. back in the donor's room, another team of surgeons rushes in. there are other lives on the line. >> is that the heart out? heart's out. >> reporter: in operating rooms across the city, four other patients are being prepped for their own life-saving operations. among those saved on this day, two young boys. and a 58-year-old woman who had all been desperately waiting for transplants. every day, 22 americans die waiting for a life-saving transplant. nationally, only 50% of eligible adults are even registered as organ donors. >> we have a crisis. we call it a crisis in the u.s. >> how many organs was david able to donate? >> he donated the heart, liver
and kidneys. also donated bone and skin and corneas. >> reporter: bone and tissue donations could have saved or improved the lives of up to 50 people, all from a single organ donor, david rodabaugh. >> it's been over a year since you've been here? >> yeah. >> reporter: it's been a tough year. while she was grieving her son's death she was also battling cancer. now she's back in new york for the first time since he passed away. >> do you feel him here? >> yeah. i do. i feel him everywhere. he used to walk up behind me and put his big ape arms around me and just -- just sway back and forth and say, i love you, mommy. you were my life, you were my everything. he'd always just bend over and kiss me on the forehead. we'd reciprocate. as soon as he'd leave that would
be the last thing i'd do. >> reporter: tomorrow nancy is going to meet the people whose lives were saved by david's organs, including pat. >> i just want to kiss his forehead. >> reporter: the next morning a boisterous group of grateful families excitedly wait to meet nancy. >> how do you tell somebody you've never met that you love them? you know, it's just -- we just want to say thank you. >> reporter: one by one, they get that chance. >> hi. my name's nancy. what's your name? >> nicholas. >> you are gorgeous. look at you. . >> could i have a big hug? >> i have to say thank you. i have to let you know how much your decision has changed our life. >> do you skateboard? skate? >> oh, yeah. >> rollerblade? >> you know i love you.
and you don't even know me. >> reporter: three families now intertwined with nancy's. >> they told me i wasn't going to get a heart. i wasn't going to give up. i said, it will come for me. >> you made me something. can i open it now? i would love to hear your heart. oh my god. >> press down. >> so strong. we would like to thank you once again for the wonderful gift you have given us. that you guys will forever be in our hearts. god bless you. when we come back, pat hardison's 15-month journey to say thank you. >> hopefully she's not going to regret her decision of doing this. >> and the moment pat and nancy come face-to-face. >> this is in many ways the big moment about to walk down the stairs. what's going through your mind? >> here i come.
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we met a mother heartbroken by the death of her son. turning her tragedy into hope for another by donating her son's face. a year after that unprecedented transplant, she's about to meet the courageous firefighter who received it. once again, my "nightline" coanchor juju chang. >> reporter: after more than a decade of standing out, his face scarred by fire -- >> beautiful day. god has blessed us with a beautiful day. >> reporter: former fireman pat
hardison is finally blending in. >> i'm just a normal guy walking down the street now. >> here we go. >> reporter: his first glimpse of this new reality just nine days after the most extensive face transplant ever performed. >> just take a close look at it. >> reporter: looking in a mirror for the first time. an unfamiliar face staring back. >> you see your hair growing? >> reporter: the outward signs of the pain and torment he lived with for so long are now gone. in the 15 months that followed he made incredible recovery. his new face taking shape over his bone structure, his brow and cheek bones. >> i'm glad to meetyou, you . >> reporter: pat's been back home in mississippi for a year. a dad in his 40s looking more like an older brother with his new youthful face. >> i'm like a newman. a shiny, brand-new penny. >> reporter: patrick's
transformation is much more than skin deep. every day he's reclaiming pieces of his life that were lost in the fire. >> i was in a prison of my own home. now i'm able to do everything that i want to do. >> he doesn't just sit at home anymore. he actually gets out and talks to people. now he's just like a normal person. ♪ happy birthday to you >> when i look into my kids' eyes -- i see happy innocence their eyes because they see how happy i am. now we're able to go on vacations. a small thing like getting into a vehicle, going to a movie, things i cld it's a miracle. a god-given miracle. >> reporter: with all the mesmerizing progress he's made there's still one person he has yet to thank, the donor's mother. >> i'm ready to meet her. she has had some very hard times. i'm ready whenever she's ready. and it will be a great day when i meet her. >> that looks perfect. >> reporter: now more than a year and a half later, nancy is finally ready. >> if my health was better we'd
have done this a long time ago. >> reporter: her battle with cancer finally behind her. >> my eyelashes and eyebrows just came back. >> how are you feeling today? good? >> a little nervous. it's going to be a very emotional day. hopefully she's not going to regret her decision of doing this. >> okay. no more tears. look at you. look at him move! slow down. oh, patrick. thank you for being so strong and so healthy. thank you for risking your life to do this. when i knew you were a firefighter, i knew you had the strength to go through this, i had no hesitation.
look at your face. look at patrick's face. >> it's beautiful. >> you are beautiful. how do you feel? >> i feel great. he and i both have the same little scar right here. >> may i kiss your forehead? >> yeah. >> reporter: a poignant ritual between mother and son now shared with patrick. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> may i look at you? do you mind? >> no, i don't mind at all. >> you got his little beauty mark. you got hair. look at this. the ears. >> not as long as he kept it but it's there. >> do you have holes? >> my kids kid me all the time about earrings. especially my boys. dad, you've got to wear earrings now. no, son. >> reporter: the consummate family man severally expanding his family. >> i'm as proud of you as i was of my own son. >> thank you. >> and thank you. for making it through all of
this. >> my kids have a lot to do with that. i wanted to see them grow up, see my daughters get married. >> reporter: living out every father's wish, his legacy now forever intertwined with nancy's. >> you're a gift to us because you're able to -- >> to carry david on for us. >> correct. >> it's not david's face, it's your face. when i talked to dr. rodriguez, i said, it's patrick's face, and tell him, only happy tears. the best day of my life was the day david was born. this is the second-best day of my life. >> reporter: the future is bright for these recipients. but across the country there are more than 100,000 people waiting for a life-saving transplant. waiting for their own donors. someone like dave and nancy whose courageous decisions gave others a second chance.
>> that's good stuff. our profound thanks to pat and nan nan nancy, everyone at live on new york, and the team at nyu langon medical center. we'll be right back. >> this special edition of "nightline" is brought to you by volkswagen. lemonheads/schoolhouse rock) zero really can be a hero. get zero down, zero deposit, zero due at signing, and zero first month's payment on select volkswagen models. right now at the volkswagen sign then drive event. does your child need help with digestive balance? try align junior probiotic. so she can have a fraction dominating... status updating... hello-yellow-belt kind of day. get 24/7 digestive support with align junior. the #1 doctor recommended probiotic brand, now for kids.
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