Woman, 21, who shot herself in the head, gets a second chance at life with a face transplant

Katie Stubblefield shot herself in 2014 in a failed suicide attempt and now years after waiting for a donor for the transplant, she is ready to start a new journey.

                            Woman, 21, who shot herself in the head, gets a second chance at life with a face transplant
(Source:Getty Images)

A 21-year-old woman who shot herself in the face in a failed suicide attempt has become the youngest person in the United States to undergo a face transplant. The procedure required three years of reconstructive procedures and more than 15 hours on the operating table. Katie Stubblefield was 18 when she shot herself and her story is now being featured in National Geographic's "The Story of a Face" cover story in the September issue. Katie, who went through a bad breakup and a series of medical issues over a short period of time, shot herself in the face with her brother’s hunting rifle in 2014. Her brother, Robert told the outlet that when he found his sister he noticed that she was covered in blood and her face was "gone". 

As reported by Fox News, the bullet tore through her forehead, nose, sinuses, jaw bones and badly damaged her eyes. When Katie was taken to the hospital after the accident, the surgeons, who were also responsible for saving her life, tried to cover her facial wounds by taking a tissue graft from her abdomen. Unfortunately, they failed and she arrived at the Cleveland Clinic with “her brain basically exposed.”

Dr. Brian Gatsman, a head, neck, skin, and high-risk soft-tissue cancer specialist took care of Katie at the clinic and noted that the accident had caused a  traumatic brain injury and severely impacted her hormones and sodium levels, as well as frontal lobe function. He gathered a team of 15 people who together tried to create a nasal passage for Katie. 

They also formed her jawline by using her fibula and titanium. The doctors also moved Katie's eye closer with the help of a distraction device that had to be tightened daily. In order to cover some of her wounds, parts of her thigh and Achilles tendon were used but Katie had to wear a mask and step out in the public. Katie then had to wait for nearly a year until she got a donor for her face transplant. 

During this wait, she had found two potential donors but they did not work. Eventually, she got the good news when she was informed that 31-year-old Adrea Schneider, who had recently passed away, would become her donor. The outlet reports that she has helped at least seven people through organ donation. Adrea's grandmother, Sandra Bennington, who gave consent for the donation, met Katie and realized that there were small features like the nose and lips that connected her to her granddaughter. 

Katie still has to undergo several procedures but is hopeful about the change in her life. She states that she hopes to heal to the point where her young nephew isn’t afraid to look at her. "I want to go out and be a face in the crowd that no one looks at,” she reportedly told her mother, Alesia. "We all like her nose; her lips are pretty,” Dr. Brian said.  “There are things we know are going to get better when we fix them, like the jaw reduction. But some things we can only do so much to improve upon. Her injury may have been the worst injury of any face transplant injury ever. We can’t necessarily make all of her muscles moving again. Her tongue is not working well because she lost a lot of tongue muscle and nerves.” Meanwhile, Katie plans on attending online college soon to pursue a career in counseling and motivational speaking, specifically to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.