Published: Fri, August 17, 2018
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

21-year-old receives historic face transplant

21-year-old receives historic face transplant

When her brother found her, he told the magazine: 'Her face was gone'. A few months later, she and her boyfriend broke up.

National Geographic followed the young woman during her three-year journey to receive the 31-hour transplant operation, and she is featured on its September cover, in a feature titled "The Story of a Face".

With her new face, Ms Stubblefield now has a future to look forward to.

National Geographic documented the journey in photographs.

"That's number one, but beyond that, I'd like her to have some level of normalcy", he said.

Her surgery will help doctors advance the field of face transplantation, helping to make the treatment more commonplace and, perhaps, push insurance companies, as well as the government, to assist victims with the cost.

Besides improving her appearance, the surgery would allow her to speak more clearly, and breathe, chew, and swallow more effectively, the clinic said. "Then when you receive a transplant, you're so thankful".

Katie's new face was donated by the family of Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old mother-of-one who who died as the result of a drug overdose.

"We made a plate designed for the combination of Katie and her sister's jaw, and that's what we used to make Katie's jaw before we did the transplant", Gastman said. Stubblefield also suffered a traumatic brain injury with damage to her frontal lobe, optic nerve, and pituitary gland.

It was in Memphis where Katie's parents, Robb and Alesia, heard the term "face transplant" for the first time.

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

Gastman said that in his 27 years of training and practice this was one of the worst face traumas he'd ever seen.

She underwent the transplant in Cleveland, Ohio, which involved using a 3D printed jaw.

Now 22, Stubblefield admits that when she was first told about a face transplant, she had no idea the procedure even existed.

The hospital declined to identify Stubblefield after the surgery past year, but released a statement from the transplant recipient. "When my parents helped explain everything to me, I was very excited to get a face again and to have function again". "Further, on the other hand, how much a singular rash decision made by so many young people today could negatively change your whole life".

There is the chance of numerous complications, including that her body will reject the new face and it will have to be removed.

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

After the attempted suicide, Stubblefield was taken to a hospital where doctors sewed her eyelids shut to help her corneas heal, stabilized her jaw and cheekbones, and tried to use skin grafts to close the open wounds on her face.

On one of her daily walks in the hospital, Katie sings as she exercises with physio Becky Vano (at left) and physio student Nicole Bliss.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

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