As a star student and a promising athlete at her Mississippi high school, with college ambitions, it seemed that the sky was the limit for thenyear-old Katie Stubblefield, her father said. And she was not very nice at playing soccer But amid the stress of looking at colleges and looking ahead to graduation, the teen's life took a detour. Now, four years later, she has a different story to tell -- one that describes the emotional struggles of adolescence, the permanence of split-second decisions and how two troubled souls came together to create a second chance. At age 21, Katie became the youngest face-transplant recipient in the United States, and only the 40th person to undergo the surgery. Years before that history-making procedure, she was experiencing a stressful year.
All rights reserved. Sixteen hours ago surgeons in Operating Room 19 at the Cleveland Clinic began the delicate work of removing the face from a year-old woman who was declared legally and medically dead three days earlier. Soon they will take it to a year-old woman who has waited more than three years for a new face. Surgeons, residents, and nurses, suddenly silent, gaze at it in awe as clinic staff, like unusually polite paparazzi, move in with cameras to document it. The face, deprived of blood, grows pale. With each second of detachment, it looks more like a 19th-century death mask. Frank Papay, a veteran plastic surgeon, picks up the tray, carrying it carefully in his gloved hands, and walks to Operating Room 20, where Katie Stubblefield waits.
A fter having more than 20 surgeries over four years, Katie Stubblefield finally has a new face. Her speech is still recovering after jaw and tongue surgery last month. Stubblefield lost a large portion of her face, and nearly her life, after shooting herself in a suicide attempt. In the aftermath, the then-teenager underwent surgery after surgery — first to save her life, then to try to repair the damage. But eventually, as Stubblefield stabilized, the operation began to look possible. The team knew it would be difficult. Her youth meant that her immune system was particularly strong, potentially increasing her chances of rejecting a transplant. Her prior suicide attempt raised mental health concerns. And the chances of finding a suitable face donor — who would need to be female and of similar age and complexion — were slim. She had not had any of that experience.
At 21, Katie was the youngest person in the United States to receive a face transplant. And, indeed, it was extensive: The surgery included transplantation of the scalp, the forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles, and skin — with percent of her facial tissue effectively replaced. Katie Stubblefield before her face transplant in March and after in August Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic. She currently remains unable to see; so, Katie is learning Braille. I have to go forward. Katie had suffered life-threatening, severely traumatic injuries from her gunshot wound. We got a pulse. While the single bullet pierced through her mouth and nasal cavity, exiting her skull between her eyebrows, it miraculously only grazed her brain tissue. Sped by ambulance to a hospital in Oxford, Miss.