The first successful full face transplant was conducted in Spain eight years ago. Since then, doctors have performed 39 face transplants. A year ago, the Cleveland Clinic performed a face transplant on the youngest patient to date, who was 21 at the time.
National Geographic chronicled the journey of that patient, Katie Stubblefield, in its September issue. When she was 18, Stubblefield tried to commit suicide by shooting herself with a rifle in her Mississippi home.
After 22 surgeries to reconstruct her face, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic performed the full face transplant, effectively replacing 100% of her face, National Geographic said. Brian Gastman and Frank Papay of the Cleveland Clinic led the surgery, which required 31 hours.
Stubblefield will remain a lifelong subject in the study of a still experimental procedure. The Department of Defense paid for much of her care to help study the care of ballistic trauma among soldiers in wartime.
One year later, Stubblefield is hoping to attend college and is considering a career in counseling. And she is speaking about her surgery to help warn of the lasting harms of suicide. “I’m definitely taking many, many daily steps,” she told CNN. “Life is precious, and life is beautiful.”