A 21-Year-Old Woman Is the Youngest Person in the U.S. to Get a Face Transplant

Katie Stubblefield lost her face at 18, when she attempted to take her own life, shooting herself in the face with a rifle. At 21, she received a transplant at the Cleveland Clinic, making her the youngest person in the U.S. to receive a face transplant. Her story, “The Story of a Face,” is the cover story of National Geographic’s September issue.

National Geographic

Before her full transplant, she went through 22 different surgeries to try and reconstruct her face. She underwent physical therapy but still needed help eating, because she didn’t have lips. Though she tried to live a normal life, people would stare and whisper to each other about her face.

Lynn Johnson/National Geographic

Her transplant took place on May 4, 2017, more than three years after her injury. The procedure took 31 hours, and surgeons removed the face from a donor, Adrea Schneider, before moving parts of it to Stubblefield’s skull, effectively replacing her entire face. “I get a second chance at life now,” Stubblefield said before her surgery began. “This is like the beginning of another chapter.”

Adrea Schneider, who died of a drug overdose, was the donor for Stubblefield’s face transplant.
Courtesy the Bennington Family / National Geographic

After the surgery was complete, Stubblefield had three major follow-up surgeries and extensive rehab treatment, and will have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life. Her parents are looking into eye transplants for her next, so her eyesight can be restored. The U.S. Department of Defense is partially funding her care so doctors can apply lessons from her transplant to help wounded soldiers.

Katie and her parents, Robb and Alesia.
Maggie Steber/National Geographic

Stubblefield now hopes to go to college and study counseling, to teach teenagers the value of life. “So many people have helped me; now I want to help other people,” she told the magazine.

You can watch a video of Stubblefield’s life-changing transplant below:

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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