Katie Stubblefield lost the majority of her face after suffering severe gunshot wounds in an attempted suicide at the age of 18.
Five weeks after the incident, Stubblefield was brought to Cleveland Clinic.
It has now been more than a year since 22-year-old Katie Stubblefieldunderwent a 31-hour operation to give her a new face.
Plastic surgeon Dr Brian Gastman, the first clinic doctor to see Katie and the man who would go on to lead her transplant procedure, recalled to NatGeo that he was initially only concerned with stabilizing Katie, and he anxious that even if that went to plan, there wouldn't be enough tissue available for corrective surgeries due to her small size. "Forget the face transplant; we're talking about just being alive".
"My first wish for Katie is to be happy", Gastman said. Afterward, "I felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain". Her story appear in September's National Geographic magazine.
Her brother kicked in the bathroom door and found a girl who Connors writes "could have walked off the cover of Seventeen magazine" now without her nose, mouth, and much of her jaws; her eyes remained but no longer aligned; she had suffered traumatic brain injury.
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At 21, Katie became the youngest person in the United States to have a face transplant. The procedure was Cleveland Clinic's third of its kind and the 40th known in the world.
"When my parents helped explain everything to me, I was very excited to get a face again and to have function again", she said.
There is the chance of numerous complications, including that her body will reject the new face and it will have to be removed. But this final stop was where she would receive her full face transplant!
The procedure performed on Stubblefield included transplantation of the scalp, the forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half of lower jaw, upper teeth, lower teeth, partial facial nerves, facial muscles, and skin - effectively replacing 100 percent of her facial tissue, according to a press release issued by Cleveland Clinic. "So many people have helped me", she said; "now I want to help other people". She hopes to go to college and eventually find a career in counselling and motivational speaking.
Stubblefield is using her story of survival to raise awareness.
Those struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24 hours a day, or be connected with the Crisis Text Line by texting "HOME" to 741741 for free 24/7 support.
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