Although she attempted to commit suicide when she was 18 years old, Katie has no memory of this moment or of most of the year that followed as she was moved from a MS hospital to one in Tennessee, and another in Cleveland, Ohio.
Following the attempt, part of her forehead, nose and sinuses, her mouth except for the corners of her lips and much of her jaw bones were gone, according to National Geographic. "Then when you receive a transplant, you're so thankful", her father added. A year after the surgery, however, she's ready to go back out into the world. Katie, 22, one year and one month after her surgery.
Image: The 21-year-old said she had been given a "second chance".
Katie with her parents. The transplant, performed a year ago, aims to restore Katie's face structure and functions - such as chewing, breathing and swallowing - which were lost in a severe gunshot injury, the haunting outcome of a suicide attempt as a teenager.
Katie doesn't remember that tragic day when she lost her face. She shot herself with a rifle, taking most of her face off in the process.
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Specialists at the Cleveland Clinic transplanted the scalp, forehead, eyelids and nose as well as parts of her cheeks, jaw, muscle, teeth and more, the hospital explained in a report, "effectively replacing 100 percent of the patient's facial tissue".
More than a year removed from the historic surgery, Katie's emotional journey is being documented in National Geographic's September issue, entitled "The Story Of A Face". She rarely went out in public except to see doctors. "Her brain was basically exposed, and I mean, we're talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems". "So many people have helped me; now I want to help other people", she told the magazine.
Now 22, Stubblefield admits that when she was first told about a face transplant, she had no idea the procedure even existed. "I felt terrible", Katie said in the interview.
While Katie's medical care team hopes that her surgery can advance the field of face transplantation, there are many other hopes for her future.
Ms Stubblefield plans on attending online college soon to pursue a career in counselling and motivational speaking, specifically to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.
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"We would do that for anybody, but many of us are parents ourselves and we saw what her own parents were going through". "With a grateful heart, I say "thank you" to all who have made this possible for me". "Further, on the other hand, how much a singular rash decision made by so many young people today could negatively change your whole life".
In the U.S., suicide rates significantly climbed in 44 states from 1999 through 2016, according to a report published in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"They're like eagles who are protecting a young bird".
"I can honestly tell you, for Katie, we do not believe for one moment that she wanted to die", Alesia said.
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