She will have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life. In 2014, during her senior year of high school, her world upended.
"In addition to finding a place to rent and cover basic essentials, their family will need additional funds to continue Katie's much needed extra therapies and training, not covered by insurance or the Department of Defense", read the page. A few months later, she and her boyfriend broke up. In 2008, American woman Connie Culp became the first United States recipient of a face transplant at the same clinic. Now, she is featured in the cover story of National Geographic magazine's September issue titled "The Story of a Face", which details what led to the attempted suicide.
Now, a National Geographic documentary, "Katie's Face", follows her step by step as she received face transplant in an extraordinary 31 hours of delicate surgery at the Cleveland Clinic previous year when she was 21.
Katie was discharged from Cleveland Clinic on August 1, 2017.
The young woman had lost her forehead, nose and sinuses, mouth except for the corners of her lips and much of the bones that make up the jaws and front of her face in the accident.
"They are warriors", she said.
Left: Stubblefield family photo.
Stubblefield lost all facial functions after a suicide attempt. Right: Photo by Martin Schoeller.
Katie now plans to attend college soon and pursue a career in counseling and motivational speaking.
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. "Forget the face transplant; we're talking about just being alive", one of her doctors, Brian Gastman, told National Geographic. "Her brain was basically exposed, and I mean, we're talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems". We're so happy to report that the transplant was successful - what a miracle!
After being told about the possible solution, Katie Stubblefield said she was just as amazed.
As Katie Stubblefield brushed her fingers across her face, she could feel the wound.
Besides improving her appearance, the surgery would allow her to speak more clearly, and breathe, chew, and swallow more effectively, the clinic said.
Katie with her parents.
"I felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain".
That was a near-total face transplant.
The operation was the Cleveland Clinic's third face transplant and the 40 in the world. "Then when you receive a transplant, you're so thankful".
Stubblefield said of the idea when it was first suggested, "I had no clue what a face transplant was. Now I want to help other people", she said.
To prepare for the surgery, doctors used 3D printing to assist with reconstructing about 90 per cent of her jaw, using her older sister Olivia McCay as a model. The only problem? This posed a greater risk of Katie's body rejecting the new face.
Meanwhile, she hopes that her story will help people "see how precious life is".
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.