Katie Stubblefield was just 18 when she attempted suicide with a .308-caliber hunting rifle. She survived, but the injury resulted in the loss of her face. Now at the age of 21, Katie has become the youngest person in the world to receive a full face transplant.
The complex procedure was completed last May by a team of surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, after Katie had undergone more than a dozen surgeries to reconstruct her face.
As a teen, Stubblefield struggled with health issues, problems in her love life, and major family moves. In 2014, during her senior year of high school, her world upended. After dealing with the effects of her family relocating for the second time in just a couple of years, chronic gastrointestinal troubles led her to have her appendix and gallbladder removed. A few months later, she and her boyfriend broke up. Hurt and angry, Stubblefield went over to her brother Robert’s place, went to the bathroom and used his gun to shoot herself.
In March 2016, Katie was placed on the waiting list for a face transplant. Fourteen months later, a donor was found: Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old woman who died of a drug overdose, National Geographic reported. Before the procedure, Katie underwent extensive psychological evaluation as a face transplant candidate and suicide survivor.
Katie doesn’t remember that tragic day when she lost her face. 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 Ohio, where she would undergo her face transplantation three years later.
The procedure performed on Stubblefield 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 her facial tissue, according to a press release issued by Cleveland Clinic.
Katie was discharged from Cleveland Clinic on August 1, 2017. She takes immunosuppressive drugs to reduce her risk of transplant rejection, which occurs when a transplant recipient’s immune system attacks the transplanted organ or tissue. She will continue to take the medication for the rest of her life.
Katie also continues physical and occupational therapy, works with a speech therapist and takes Braille lessons.
Eventually, Katie hopes to enroll in online college courses and is considering becoming a counselor. She told National Geographic she wants to speak to teenagers about suicide prevention and the value of life. “So many people have helped me; now I want to help other people.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.