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

Maricruz Casares
Agosto 15, 2018

A 21-year-old woman who shot herself in the face in a failed suicide bid has become the youngest person in the U.S. to receive a face transplant. The gunshot destroyed the teen's face and required extensive surgery to save her life.

Now, a National Geographic documentary, "Katie's Face", follows her step by step as she received face transplant in an extraordinary 31 hours of delicate surgery at the Cleveland Clinic past year when she was 21.

She had chronic gastrointestinal problems which she had to undergo surgery for, she had just broken up with her then-boyfriend and her mother was abruptly fired from teaching at the same school that she attended.

Specialists at the Cleveland Clinic in OH transplanted the scalp, forehead, eyelids and nose as well as parts of her cheeks, jaw, muscle, teeth and more, the hospital explained in a report, "effectively replacing 100 percent of the patient's facial tissue".

Plastic surgeon Dr Brian Gastman, the first clinic doctor to see Katie and the man who would go on to lead her transplant procedure, recalled to NatGeo that he was initially only concerned with stabilizing Katie, and he anxious that even if that went to plan, there wouldn't be enough tissue available for corrective surgeries due to her small size.

Stubblefield doesn't remember the suicide attempt or any of the surgeries that followed to help mend her face.

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Now 22, she has shared her story and incredible photos of her transplant journey with National Geographic. The procedure was Cleveland Clinic's third of its kind and the 40th known in the world. The recipient, Isabelle Diniore died last year at the age of 49, 11 years after the surgery.

Though Stubblefield has attempted to live a normal life ("I got hurt, but I'm getting better", she wants to tell the people who stare at her on the street), she's been subjected to intense physical therapy to help her regain muscle control that she lost from trauma caused by the bullet, making "normal" a goal, not yet a reality. "With a new nose, lips, palate, eyelids and jaw, she now has the full opportunity to re-integrate into society and have a future just like any other young adult". But this final stop was where she would receive her full face transplant! The only problem? This posed a greater risk of Katie's body rejecting the new face. "That's number one, but beyond that, I'd like her to have some level of normalcy".

But she intends to pick up where she left off, she told National Geographic, going to college and perhaps pursuing a career in counseling.

Stubblefield is using her story of survival to raise awareness.

For immediate help if you are in a crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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