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

Henrietta Brewer
August 17, 2018

She survived, but the injury resulted in the loss of her face.

She was placed on the waiting list for a face transplant in March 2016 and a donor was found 14 months later: Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old woman who died of a drug overdose, according to a National Geographic feature on her journey.

Speaking of Ms Stubblefield's family, photographer Maggie Steber, who documented their journey, said: "They are warriors". "Her brain was basically exposed, and I mean, we're talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems".

She was rushed to a local hospital to the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, where doctors tried to save her life.

Besides improving her appearance, the surgery would allow her to speak more clearly, and breathe, chew, and swallow more effectively, the clinic said. Katie, 22, one year and one month after her surgery. "Forget the face transplant; we're talking about just being alive".

The GoFundMe page aims to raise US$50,000 to help pay for Katie and her family's needs for the coming year.

Five weeks after Katie almost died from the gunshot wound, she arrived at the Cleveland Clinic in dire need of reconstructive surgery.

"I felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain".

After being told about the possible solution, Katie Stubblefield said she was just as amazed.

That was a near-total face transplant.

Full and partial face transplants, still considered experimental surgeries, involve replacing all or parts of a person's face with donated tissue from a deceased donor.

"I had no clue what a face transplant was", Stubblefield told CNN.

The hospital declined to identify Stubblefield after the surgery a year ago, but released a statement from the transplant recipient.

To prepare for the surgery, doctors used 3D printing to assist with reconstructing about 90 per cent of her jaw, using her older sister Olivia McCay as a model.

Stubblefield has said that she wants to go to school now to become a counselor, and to work with other suicide survivors in the future.

"When my parents helped explain everything to me, I was very excited to get a face again and to have function again", Katie said, via WTKR. "She can try to save other young lives".

But she intends to pick up where she left off, she told National Geographic, going to college and perhaps pursuing a career in counseling. And now Katie has a mission in her life. She has said that she doesn't remember much of that year - including being hospitalized in Oxford, Mississippi; being flown to another hospital in Memphis, Tennessee; and then being transferred to Cleveland Clinic in OH, where she would undergo her face transplantation three years later.

Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day, or be connected with the Crisis Text Line by texting "HOME" to 741741 for free 24/7 support.

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