Katie Stubblefield has a heartbreaking story. At the young age of 18, she attempted suicide. Following innumerable physical and relational trials, including ongoing gastrointestinal problems, and a devastating breakup, Stubblefield grabbed her brother’s rifle, locked herself in the bathroom, aimed the gun at her face and pulled the trigger.
Her injuries were devastating, and it was a miracle that she survived. Now, after three years of struggling with her disfigured appearance, Kate has a new face — she has become the youngest person ever to receive a face transplant, after an operation that lasted over 30 hours.
Prior to surgery, Katie showed extraordinary courage.
“I’m just very thankful to be alive,” she exclaimed three years after the horrific suicide attempt.
The transplant came from Adrea Schneider, a 31-year-old woman who died of a drug overdose. The surgery took place on May 4, 2017. Eleven surgeons worked tirelessly for 31 hours to achieve the remarkable result.
In an extraordinary piece for National Geographic published Wednesday, Katie’s physical transformation is documented in stunning detail.
“I get a second chance at life now,” Katie said just before the surgery, after being asked whether she had any second thoughts.
“This is like the beginning of another chapter,” she continued. “Very poetic, right?”
As Katie is getting ready to go under the knife, her family can be seen praying by her bedside.
“Thank you for your mercies that are new every day,” Katie’s father, Robb prayed. “Thank you for this opportunity. We thank you for this day. Amen.”
“You’ve come a long way,” added Katies brother, Robert, before she headed to the OR.
For two and a half years, photographer Maggie Steber followed Katie and her family around as they worked through the next steps of her recovery.
“They would share their deepest thoughts with me,” Steber told National Geographic. “That’s quite a privileged position. Sometimes photographers need to put down the camera and just listen to their subjects.”
Now, the talented photographer hopes that Katie’s remarkable story will call others to face up to the realities of these incredibly difficult situations, and will compel people to have compassion, rather than cruel judgement.
“People look away from everything, don’t they?” she reflected aloud. “They look away from pictures of starving children, of war. They have the choice. But then I think of all the people who will be very interested. Maybe there are some children who will become doctors one day because they see this. We have to think of the people who will be inspired and informed and changed by this.”
“Life is precious,” Katie said following her life-changing surgery. “And life is beautiful.”
(H/T: National Geographic)