Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Katie Stubblefield, 21, becomes the youngest woman in America to have a face transplant

She is the 40th person in the world known to have received a new face. Photo: Left: Stubblefield family photo, Right: Photo by Martin Schoeller, National Geographic

A 21-year-old has become the youngest person in America to receive a face transplant.

Katie Stubblefield was given a second chance at life after she pulled the trigger on herself following a breakup with her boyfriend in 2014.

The 31-hour procedure, featured in the National Geographic's September Issue "The Story of a Face", is still widely considered to be experimental.

Katie's eyelids were sutured shut to protect her eyes during the 31-hour procedure. Credit: Lynn Johnson/National Geographic

Ms Stubblefield is the 40th person in the world to undergo the life-changing procedure.

As her face went under the knife last year, surgeons warned her the results would not only be a new face but also a lifelong commitment to taking strong immunosuppressive drugs.

These drugs run the risk of making her more vulnerable to cancers and diabetes.

The UK edition is being guest edited by Katie Piper. Credit: National Geographic

Ms Stubblefield first arrived at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, as an 18-year-old, more than five weeks after she had shot herself in 2014.

Surgeons patched her face together using flesh from her thigh and part of her Achilles tendon.

She describes their handiwork to the National Geographic as her "Shrek" face.

Katie and her father sing “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” as they share a dance. Credit: Maggie Steber/National Geographic.

In May 2017 she received a second face and the medical team went to great lengths to manage the Stubblefield family's expectation.

The psychiatrist working on the case told the National Geographic that suicide complicates matters.

As the surgeons when to work, on the other side of the theatre Ms Stubbfield's parents worried.

"What if Katie comes out a different personality?," her mum asked.

The procedure went well but it will take time before Ms Stubblefield's new face functions naturally.

Among the things Ms Stubblefield will have to wait for is the growth of her facial nerves, which her surgeon predicts will grow an inch a month.

For now, her new face although no longer under the glaring lights of the operating room, will still face scrutiny from the medical world as they watch to see whether the transplant stands the test of time.