this is a special edition of "nightline." brave, face-to-face. tonight an extraordinary meeting. the mother of a donor and 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. 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. >> 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 "nightline," "brave, face-to-face," will be right back.
this is a special edition of "nightline." >> good evening. you're about to witness an unforgettable encounter. pat hartison, a firefighter badly bumped in the line of duty, endured the most extensive face transplant ever attempted. but his experimental surgery required a selfless act on the part of one remarkable mother.
over a year later nancy millar is coming face to face with a man whose bravery led to this moment. >> oh, lord. >> take a deep breath. >> 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 hartison, the 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. >> reporter: it's been more than a year since nancy lost her son,
david rodibagh. >> come on, 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. >> i've been with fifth gear 10, 12 years. >> reporter: his love for bicycles brought him to new york where he worked as a bike mechanic. >> i've been riding my whole life, when i could walk my parents bought me a 9 why turtles huffy bike, started busting my eyes open and breaking bones and i've been doing it since. >> there was no fear in that boy at all. >> 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 lopez was one of them. >> dave was without a doubt the best guy you never met. >> reporter: flying through the air, defying gravity, that's david ripping around the track at a red bull-sponsored race in 2014. >> you've got to gas it, not think about it. just go, go, go. >> dave was never supposed to die. you could never think about stuff like that if you were the type of dude that did the type of stuff that dave did. >> 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 heart-breaking decision to let him go. but david would live on in the tiny mementos and the big memorials his friends set up and 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, 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, ears and nose. his eyelids and lips were also gone. >> i think the first time i realized what he had gone through was the first time i saw him. >> reporter: pat's oldest daughter alison was just 6 at the time. >> i remember going up 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 langon medical center. the pioneering surgeon in the emerging field of face transplants had been looking for the perfect patient, and pat was the one. >> 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. but 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. dr. rodriguez disappears into patrick's o.r. it will take him another 14 hours to complete this surgery. in the donor's room another team of surgeons rushes in. there are other lives on the line. 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 here. we call it a crisis in the u.s. >> reporter: helen irving runs live on new york, a group that matches organ donors to patients in need. >> how many organs was david able to donate? >> heart, liver, kidneys. also donated bone and skin and corneas. >> reporter: the bone and tissue donations could have saved or improved the lives of up to 50 people, all from a single organ donor, david rodabagh. >> it's been over a year since-been here? >> yeah. >> reporter: a tough year for nancy. while 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? >> 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 used to always bend over and kiss me on the forehead, and 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 afd david by dave's organs, including pat. >> i want to kiss his forehead. >> reporter: the next morning a boils truss gro boisterous group of excited families meet nancy. >> how do you tell somebody you've never met that you love them? we just want to say thank you. >> reporter: one by one, they get that chance. >> hi. my name's nancy.
i'm nancy. how you been? >> 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, 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. >> 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. >> reporter: 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. >> reporter: and the moment pat and nancy come face-to-face. >> this is in many ways the big moment. pat's going to walk down the stairs. what's going through your mind? >> i'm ready. >> reporter: when "nightline" returns. lly get in shape. not to be focusing on my moderate to severe chronic plaque psoriasis. so i made a decision to talk to my dermatologist about humira. humira works inside my body to target and help block a specific source of inflammation that contributes to my symptoms. in clinical trials, most adults taking humira were clear or almost clear, and many saw 75% and even 90% clearance in just 4 months. humira can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers,
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turning her tragedy into hope for another by donating her son's face. a year after that unprecedented transplant, she's now about to meet the courageous firefighter who received it. after more than a decade of standing out, his face scarred by fire -- >> a 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. >> reporter: looking in a mirror for the first time. an untap contractor face staring back. >> you see your hair growing? >> reporter: the outward signs of the pain and torment he lived with now gone. in the 15 months that followed he made an incredible recovery. his new face taking shape over
his old bone structure, his brow and cheekbones. >> i'm glad to meet you, you look fabulous. >> reporter: pat's been back home in mississippi for a year. a dad in his 40s looking more like an elder brother with his new youthful face. >> oh, i'm like a new man. like a shiny brand-new penny. >> reporter: his eye doctor, who once warned him he was going blind, amazed at his progress. >> smile at me, look at me. he can do things that were never possible before all this happened. come a long way. >> thank you. >> reporter: but 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 wanted 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 go to a movie. things i couldn't do before. it's a miracle. a god-given miracle. >> how are you? >> reporter: this past summer, pat paid a visit to live on new york, the team who spent two years trying to find his donor. >> thank you. thank you. >> reporter: he is full of gratitude. they are full of awe. >> what's it like having to try to shave again? >> it's a blessing to be able to do that. >> maybe you can show them your new head of hair. >> full hair. that's full, just got it cut a couple days ago. >> 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, but
she has had some very hard times. i'm ready whenever she's ready. 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 up. >> look at you. look at him move! slow down. oh god.
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. >> we got it done. >> look at your face. look at patrick's face. >> 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 if. >> 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? >> i don't mind at all. >> you've got his beauty mark. you've got hair, look at this. the ears. >> not as long as he kept it but it's there. >> do you have holes? >> my kids pick at me all the time about areaings. areaings. my boys, "dad, you need earrings
now." no, son, daddy don't do earrings. >> reporter: the family man expanding his family. >> as proud of you as i was my own son. >> thank you. >> and thank you for making it through all of this. >> my kids have a lot to do with that because it's -- i wanted to see them grow up, wanted to 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
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to honor her son's memory, nancy millar is launching the david preston helmet society for helmet safety. pat hardison is writing a book and planning to pursue a career as a motivational speaker. before they met pat the firefighter had an unexpected honor for his donor. >> every year at the end of the year we always nominate a fireman of the year, give them a plaque, name on the wall. this year everybody nominated david. >> oh my lord. >> so we would like you to come, any way possible -- >> i'll be there. >> and accept this award in