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

At 21 Woman Is Youngest Ever to Undergo Face Transplant After Attempting Suicide as a Teen

Katie Stubblefield's story is the center of a new National Geographic

At 21, Katie became the youngest person in the United States to have a face transplant.

Katie Stubblefield, 21, is the youngest face transplant recipient in US history, as featured on the cover of National Geographic's September issue. Now she's sharing her story with the world, from almost dying to an extraordinary facial surgery that has given her a new start.

Just over a year later, she received her face transplant, which restored her face structure, her ability to chew, swallow and breathe on her own for the first time since the incident.

Stubblefield doesn't remember the suicide attempt or any of the surgeries that followed to help mend her face.

The 31-hour surgery took place on May 4, 2017, and it involved several specialists, 11 surgeons, and a great deal of virtual reality technology. Though she tried to live a normal life, people would stare and whisper to each other about her face.

"I am able to touch my face now, and it feels wonderful", she said. While her doctors first focused on reconstruction to fix the damage she had done to her face, they were able to replace her face with one from a donor - although the entire process spanned three years.

"That's number one, but beyond that, I'd like her to have some level of normalcy", he said. She could feel where her face was swollen.

Ms Stubblefield now takes medication to reduce the risk of organ rejection, and will do so for the rest of her life.

"I had never thought of doing that before", Ms Stubblefield said of her attempt to kill herself.

Katie's doctors chose to give her a full transplant instead of a partial one because, with the donor's face being wider and darker, transplanting 100 percent of it would look better. Her story could push the gun control conversation forward as many activists see this as another example of the gun violence epidemic the country is going through.

Katie also continues physical and occupational therapy, works with a speech therapist and takes Braille lessons.

Katie Stubblefield at Ronald McDonald House in Cleveland, Ohio.

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

The surgery was performed at the Cleveland Clinic in OH in May and paid for by the US Department of Defence through the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Stubblefield now hopes to go to college and study counseling, to teach teenagers the value of life.

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. They are warriors. They're like eagles who are protecting a young bird. "Further, on the other hand, how much a singular rash decision made by so many young people today could negatively change your whole life".

While Stubblefield's story may help others to think twice about trying to take their lives, her journey is also helping to shed light on yet another problem.

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