Katie Stubblefield, 21, from Mississippi, USA, survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound at age 18, and now three years later she became the youngest person to receive a face transplant in the United States history. Now she’s sharing her story with the world, from nearly dying to an extraordinary facial surgery that has given her a new start. A photograph of Stubblefield, taken after her injury and before the transplant, appears on the cover of National Geographic’s September issue. ‘The Story of A Face’ shares the journey before and after the young woman’s surgery and her hope for the future.
In March 2014, Katie placed her brother’s .308-caliber rifle beneath her chin and fired, according to the magazine. During the interview, Katie said that she never saw herself as beautiful and after a barrage of hardships – chronic gastrointestinal issues, the loss of her mother’s job and a painful breakup – she wanted to end her life.
Watch Video of Katie Before Her Surgery
Follow one family's journey through the agony of waiting for a donor, a 31-hour surgery, and the prospect of a long road to recovery. Watch the full documentary: https://t.co/QgH2X1fZg0 pic.twitter.com/dHqG47Rod3
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) August 14, 2018
Although she survived, she had lost her forehead, nose and sinuses. Her mouth was also gone except for the corners of her lips and bones that make up the jaws and front of her face were blown off too. Her eyes remained – but they were askew and badly damaged.
Katie Stubblefield on the Cover of National Geographic Magazine
Katie’s story is about more than just a face—it's about human identity, resilience, and second chances. Experience some of the most intimate moments from the two years we spent with her family. https://t.co/4TZo9G0i7q pic.twitter.com/0822WeaH1W
— National Geographic Magazine (@NatGeoMag) August 14, 2018
In two years, she found herself on a waiting list for a face transplant and in 2017 a match was found. Katie would receive the face of Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old organ donor and mother of one who died of drug overdose. The 31-hour operation was the longest of its kind ever carried out. Specialists at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio transplanted the scalp, forehead, eyelids and nose as well as parts of her cheeks, jaw, muscle, teeth and more, the hospital explained in a report, ‘effectively replacing 100% of the patient’s facial tissue’.
Katie is the 40th known person in the world to receive a new face, according to National Geographic. Katie now hopes to speak on suicide prevention and said, “So many people have helped me. Now I want to help other people.” As well as having a face, she can now chew, swallow and breath independently for the first time in years. Katie’s surgery was funded by the Department of Defence as part of an initiate to research treatments for soldiers with wounds like the one she survived.