Katie Stubblefield, 22, Gets Life-Changing Face Transplant
Katie Stubblefield is only 22 years old, but she has endured more hardship than most. When she was 18, she attempted to take her own life. While she survived, her face was disfigured from the incident. However, a miraculous face transplant has given her a new face, and it’s the cover story for the September issue of National Geographic.
KATIE STUBBLEFIELD’S FACE TRANSPLANT
Katie’s suicide attempt happened on March 25, 2014, although she doesn’t remember it nor can she she recall much of that year. Her older brother, Robert, was outside chatting with his mother, both concerned for Katie as she had just broken up with her boyfriend, who had been texting another girl. Adding to her stress was how she recently underwent a surgery for chronic gastrointestinal problems, and that her mother, Alesia, was recently fired from her job.
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Robert ran inside when he heard a gunshot, kicking in his bathroom’s locked door to find his injured sister. Her face was unrecognizable; she lost “part of her forehead; her nose and sinuses; her mouth, except for the corners of her lips; and much of her mandible and maxilla, the bones that make up the jaws and front of the face.” She still had her eyes, though they were askew and her vision was impaired.
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The Stubblefields left Oxford, where the incident occurred, and never returned. Her parents, Robb and Alesia, moved to the Ronald McDonald House that was situated near the clinic where Katie lived. One of them was always around her, and the couple survived thanks to the kindness of others and by the odd jobs Robb picked up.
Katie had her life-changing surgery when she was 21, becoming the youngest person to have one in the United States. Brian Gastman, one of 16 doctors who would operate on Katie, has practiced for over 27 years and confessed that this was one of the worst facial traumas he had ever seen. He wasn’t even sure if the 105-pound girl would survive it, noting that part of her brain was exposed.
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Throughout the “many surgeries” Katie had, Gastman and his team “removed and repaired shattered bones,” “made a rudimentary nose and upper lip from her thigh tissue rolled up inside out,” “used a piece of her Achilles tendon” to help compose a chin and lower lip, they “fashioned a new lower jawbone from titanium and a piece of her fibula with flesh still attached, and every day they adjusted a distraction device that was attacked to her skull with the intent of moving her eyes closer together.
Katie was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic last August, now taking immunosuppressive drugs to limit the chance of transplant rejection. She will need to take this medication for as long as she lives. However, noting how her family’s love saved her life, she is also working as a speech therapist and is learning Braille. According to Katie, “Life is precious, and life is beautiful.”
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