Suicide survivor youngest in US to get face transplant

Ms Katie Stubblefield when she was 17 (left). At age 18, she put a rifle below her chin and shot herself, losing parts of her forehead, nose and sinuses, most of her mouth and bones that made up her jaw and structures of her face. Now, at 22 (right),
Ms Katie Stubblefield when she was 17 (left). At age 18, she put a rifle below her chin and shot herself, losing parts of her forehead, nose and sinuses, most of her mouth and bones that made up her jaw and structures of her face. Now, at 22 (right), she has a new face and a new future. PHOTOS: STUBBLEFIELD FAMILY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Three years after she shot herself at 18, she gets new face in 31hr op and plans to be a motivational speaker

Ms Katie Stubblefield was just 18 when she attempted suicide by putting a hunting rifle below her chin and shooting herself.

She survived the shooting, but her suicide attempt put her on a journey to become the youngest person in the United States to receive a face transplant.

Now, at 22, she is featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine's September issue, released on Tuesday in a piece titled The Story Of A Face.

She is also featured in National Geographic's full-length documentary, Katie's Face.

According to a report by CNN, Ms Stubblefield suffered several problems in the days leading up to her suicide.

She had chronic gastrointestinal problems which she had to undergo surgery for, she had just broken up with her then boyfriend and her mother was fired abruptly from teaching at the same school that she attended.

TOUGH OP

Her brain was basically exposed and, I mean, we are talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems. Forget the face transplant, we are talking about just being alive.

DR BRIAN GASTMAN of Cleveland Clinic, who attended to Ms Katie Stubblefield after she was transferred there. The plastic surgeon said her injury was one of the worst face traumas he had ever seen.

At an all-time low, a rash decision to kill herself changed Ms Stubblefield's life.

She lost parts of her forehead, her nose and sinuses, most of her mouth and bones that made up her jaw and structures of her face.

Her eyes remained but they were badly damaged, news reports said.

Plastic surgeon Brian Gastman of Cleveland Clinic, who attended to her after she was transferred there some time after the incident, told National Geographic that Ms Stubblefield's injury was one of the worst face traumas he had ever seen.

He said: "Her brain was basically exposed and, I mean, we are talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems. Forget the face transplant, we are talking about just being alive."

Ms Stubblefield told National Geographic she has no memory of her suicide attempt or the many operations to mend her face. Her parents were the ones to tell her.

"I felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain. I felt horrible," she said.

Last year, three years after she shot herself, it was decided that she would have a face transplant - an experimental and extensive surgery, only the 40th known to the world.

Her donor - Ms Adrea Schneider - was a 31-year-old woman who died of a drug overdose.

The procedure involved replacing her full facial tissue - transplanting the scalp, forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of the lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, muscles and skin.

The surgery, which took 31 hours, was a success.

Ms Stubblefield now takes medication to reduce the risk of organ rejection, and will do so for the rest of her life. She also has to continue with physical and occupational therapy for the time being.

With her new face, Ms Stubblefield now has a future to look forward to. She hopes to go to college and eventually find a career in counselling and motivational speaking. "So many people have helped me, now I want to help other people," she told National Geographic.

She hopes to speak to teenagers about suicide prevention, echoing what she told CNN: "Life is precious, and life is beautiful."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2018, with the headline 'Suicide survivor youngest in US to get face transplant'. Print Edition | Subscribe