Woman Receives Historic Face Transplant Surgery After Surviving Suicide Attempt

Wednesday, 15 August 2018 - 12:25PM
Wednesday, 15 August 2018 - 12:25PM
Woman Receives Historic Face Transplant Surgery After Surviving Suicide Attempt
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Image Credit: Pixabay

Warning: this story links to some imagery that readers may find disturbing. Proceed with caution.

It's a very complex procedure that for a very long time seemed impossible to get right. For suicide survivor Katie Stubblefield, a face transplant was more than a risky operation that only 39 people in the world had received-it was a chance at a new life.

Back in 2014, 18-year-old Stubbenfield shot herself in the face with a rifle at her brother's home in Mississippi. According to National Geographic, the blast took most of the center of Katie's face. She doesn't remember much from that year or from the various hospitals she taken to. Three years and 22 reconstructive surgeries later, Stubbenfield found herself at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where the face transplantation would be performed. "There was an older trauma surgeon who basically told us, 'It's the worst wound that I've ever seen of its kind,'" Katie's brother Robb said, adding that the surgeon in Memphis is the one who first introduced the idea of the transplant to the family. When they told Katie, she didn't know what the surgery would entail, but she was "very excited to get a face again and to have function again."

The 31-hour procedure required 11 surgeons, additional specialists, 3D printed models to reconstruct Katie's jaw, virtual reality, and most importantly, a face removed from a deceased donor. When all was said and done, Katie had received a new forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, mouth and lips, cheeks, upper jaw, part of a lower jaw, teeth, and facial muscles, becoming the youngest person in the United States and only the 40th person in history to receive a face transplant. "I'm definitely taking many, many daily steps," Stubbenfield said of her recovery from the surgery a year ago. "Life is precious, and life is beautiful."

Katie Stubbenfield will grace the cover of National Geographic for the publication's September issue. "We think her story is one of the most important stories that we will do this year," said EIC Susan Goldberg. "We thought it was just such a moving and inspiring story that is about everything from human journey to breakthrough medicine and science." Check your local newsstands for the issue, and watch the short documentary below that tells more of Katie Stubbenfield's story.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. 

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