A rifle shot destroyed Katie’s face at 18. After 22 surgeries and three years of waiting, she arrived at the operating room. Her story.
Katie Stubblefield was 18 years old the day she decided to take her own life. It was on March 25, 2014: she shot herself with a rifle in the face . The shot destroyed her face, but the girl survived. That day began a medical career that continues today, after she became the youngest recipient of a face transplant in the United States .
Her story was recorded with a National Geographic team that accompanied her for more than two years.
The path to transplant was extensive. As the shot destroyed much of Katie’s face, it took 22 operations before implanting the new face.
The donation was made possible thanks to the will of Sandra Bennington, grandmother of Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old woman who had died of an overdose. When he learned that he was compatible, he gave his approval to give up his tissues and easy organs. Adrea was registered as a donor and his heart, lungs and liver also saved lives in other parts of the United States.
It took more than three years until the young woman arrived at the operating room; the last one was on the waiting list. “You’re in good hands,” her father told her seconds before she was placed on a stretcher in the operating room of the Cleveland Clinic.
Doctors Brian Gastman and Frank Papay did not make the decision alone: they presented Adrea’s face on Katie’s head, took pictures and showed them to the parents of the recipient. They agreed to do the full transplant, even though that raised the risk of a later rejection .
The complete intervention included forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, mouth and lips, cheeks, upper jaw and part of the lower jaw, teeth and facial muscles.
When she underwent the transplant Katie was 21 years old, so she became the youngest recipient of a face transplant in the United States .
According to National Geographic detailed in its online site, the intervention was made between May 4 and 5 last year, lasted 31 hours and doctors had to change plans halfway. It is that originally they had thought to do a partial transplant, but once in the operating room they saw that it would be better to do it in complete form , since there were differences of size and tone of skin between the donor and the receiver.
The surgery was funded by the US Department of Defense. Through the Institute of Regenerative Medicine of the Armed Forces. The goal was to improve treatment for members of the battle-injured forces returning with similar injuries. As such, Katie’s face transplant surgery became a lifelong experiment for the treatment of facial trauma by bullet.
The entire process was registered by National Geographic under the title “Story of a face”. “(The work) is about hope and resilience, identity, the strength of a family’s love and devotion to their daughter, and about the medical miracle that has given Katie a second chance in life,” she said. Susan Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Partners and Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Magazine, will be the cover for the September issue of the magazine.