21-year-old woman becomes youngest in US to receive face transplant

Randy Kelley
August 17, 2018

That was before Katie, at 21, became the youngest person in the United States to receive a face transplant.

More than a year removed from the historic surgery, Katie's emotional journey is being documented in National Geographic's September issue, entitled "The Story Of A Face".

Ms Stubblefield told National Geographic that she has no memory of her suicide attempt or the many surgeries to mend her face - her parents were the ones to tell her.

Hurt and angry, Stubblefield went over to her brother Robert's place, went to the bathroom and used his gun to shoot herself.

She hopes to speak to teenagers about suicide prevention, echoing what she told CNN: "Life is precious, and life is attractive".

Ms Stubblefield was on the transplant list for over a year before a donor was found: Andrea Schneider, a 31-year-old organ donor who had recently passed away, was a match.

"I never thought of doing that ever before, and so on hearing about it, I just didn't know how to handle it", she told National Geographic.

Steber said of the experience, "They would share their deepest thoughts with me".

But after 22 operations and her final face transplant she has made a decision to spread her message to help others suffering with suicidal thoughts.

"We think her story is one of the most important stories that we will do this year. I felt frightful", she adds.

The surgery included transplantation of the scalp, the forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles, and skin - effectively replacing 100 percent of the patient's facial tissue, the Cleveland Clinic said.

"Life is precious, and life is lovely", she said.

Dr Brian Gastman, who was part of the surgical team, explained: 'Her whole story made our team come together much faster, and we sort of ran toward her to take care of her.

"We would do that for anybody, but many of us are parents ourselves and we saw what her own parents were going through".

Katie Stubblefield at Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland, Ohio.

"If by sharing her story, Katie could empower one person, debunk one myth about suicide, or most of all prevent one suicide she will have achieved her goal", said the page. Like all other face transplant recipients, Stubblefield will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life. A grant from the US Department of Defense, through the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, covered Katie's transplant, according to National Geographic.

Ms Stubblefield aims to study counselling and become a motivational speaker to raise awareness about suicide prevention.

"I am forever grateful for the care this hospital has given me and continues to offer on my journey of recovery and healing", Stubblefield said in a statement previous year from the clinic.

"They're like eagles who are protecting a young bird".

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