Katie Stubblefield who shot her face off in a failed suicide gets a face ...

When Katie Stubblefield's boyfriend broke up with her, in a moment of madness and despair, the pretty teenager snatched her brother Robert's hunting rifle, locked herself in the bathroom and shot herself in the head.

When Robert kicked down the door, he discovered his sister with her face 'gone'.

The bullet, which was fired upwards as she rested the gun barrel under her chin, had destroyed almost everything in an upwards and inwards triangle, from her chin to between her eyebrows.

Katie Stubblefield, 21, is the youngest person to get a full face transplant (right), three years after she shot herself in the head aged 18 (left)

Katie Stubblefield, 21, is the youngest person to get a full face transplant (right), three years after she shot herself in the head aged 18 (left)

The 18-year-old's nose and sinuses, her mouth (apart from the corners of her lips), part of her forehead, and most of her jaw and facial bones were destroyed. Her eyes were so badly damaged she was left with limited vision.

Astonishingly, Katie survived. Perhaps even more astonishingly, doctors have been able to give her a new face and the opportunity of a life with some semblance of normality.

Three years and 22 operations later, Katie became, at the age of 21, the youngest person ever to receive a full face transplant.

She is one of 40 people worldwide to have undergone the procedure, but surgeons who treated her believe she had the worst injuries of any patient to date, requiring one of the most extensive transplants yet undertaken.

It culminated in an epic, 31-hour procedure at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, during which a team of doctors effectively replaced 100 per cent of her facial tissue with that of a 31-year-old female donor.

Katie's incredible story, documented by a team from National Geographic magazine, was published this week.

The bullet destroyed almost everything in an upwards and inwards triangle, from her chin to between her eyebrows

The 18-year-old's nose and sinuses, her mouth (apart from the corners of her lips), part of her forehead, and most of her jaw and facial bones were destroyed. Her eyes were so badly damaged she was left with limited vision

The bullet destroyed almost everything in an upwards and inwards triangle, from her chin to between her eyebrows

Even now, her ordeal is not over. She is, in effect, a human guinea pig in an immensely complicated specialism still in its infancy.

Her progress — indeed, her survival — is fraught with the risk of her body rejecting the transplanted face, so she must remain on high doses of powerful immuno-suppressive drugs and be constantly monitored by doctors.

There is also, sadly, a risk of Katie herself 'rejecting' her new identity. At least one other face transplant recipient has committed suicide.

What emerges from her story is Katie's determination to embrace this second chance she's been given, whatever the challenges.

Raised in a devoutly Christian family in Lakeland, Florida, Katie was 'fearless and a lot of fun' as a child, and shared a sardonic wit with her older brother, Robert, according to their sister, Olivia.

As she matured, she became immensely competitive at school and in sport. But after the family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, she suffered a succession of setbacks, including medical problems and her mother losing her job as a teacher at Katie's school.

Three years and 22 operations later, Katie became, at the age of 21, the youngest person ever to receive a full face transplant

Three years and 22 operations later, Katie became, at the age of 21, the youngest person ever to receive a full face transplant

Then, in March 2014, Katie discovered her boyfriend was sending text messages to another girl, and he ended their relationship. Distraught, she went to her brother's home and attempted suicide.

In the aftermath, she was taken to a local hospital and then transferred to another in Memphis, Tennessee, where surgeons managed to keep her alive but failed in their attempt to cover the huge wound in her face with a tissue graft from her abdomen.

Five weeks later, she was moved to the Cleveland Clinic, where surgeons looked at her tiny, 7 st 7 lb frame and wondered whether they could find enough tissue for the reconstructive work she required.

Katie's brain was partially exposed and had suffered traumatic injury. Some on her team of 15 specialists feared she might die, but in a string of operations, they stabilised her condition and patched up her face.

Brian Gastman, a plastic surgeon and one of the team leaders, created a rudimentary nose and upper lip using tissue from her thighs, while a piece of her Achilles tendon was used to rebuild her chin and lower lip.

Using a three-dimensional model made from a scan of Olivia's jaw, the team built a new lower jawbone from titanium and a piece of her calf bone.

It culminated in an epic, 31-hour procedure at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, during which a team of doctors effectively replaced 100 per cent of her facial tissue with that of a 31-year-old female donor

It culminated in an epic, 31-hour procedure at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, during which a team of doctors effectively replaced 100 per cent of her facial tissue with that of a 31-year-old female donor

Her eyes had been displaced by the force of the bullet, and so they moved them closer together.

Katie got to know her embryonic new face by touch, but it was a long way from her dream of an appearance that wouldn't automatically make her stand out in a crowd.

Most noticeably, it featured a crooked sausage of flesh in the centre and a bulbous chin below. Katie called it her 'Shrek face', a reference to the pudding-faced film character. A face transplant was the only option.

Her parents, who had left Mississippi to live in a house near the clinic (owned by a charity for parents of hospitalised young patients), hadn't realised such surgery was possible until a doctor in Memphis mentioned it.

Katie's father, Robb, a former church minister, has said: 'There was an older trauma surgeon who told us: 'It's the worst wound I've ever seen of its kind.' 

He added: 'The only thing I can think of that would give her functional life again is a face transplant.'

Adrea Schneider, 31, was the donor face after she died of a cocaine overdose

Her facial tissue and bones were used to construct Katie's new face

Adrea Schneider, 31, (left) was the donor face after she died of a cocaine overdose. Her facial tissue and bones were used to construct Katie's new face (right)

Katie said she, too, was dumbfounded when told about the revolutionary procedure. 'I had no clue what a face transplant was. When my parents helped explain everything, I was very excited to get a face again,' she said.

She says she cannot remember anything about the day she shot herself or, indeed, the operations that followed, and that she had never thought of suicide before. She 'felt so guilty that I had put my family through such pain'.

It proved crucial that psychiatrists were persuaded her suicide attempt was, as her family insisted, an impulsive act that wasn't reflective of her normal personality.

One of the earliest transplant patients, a man who had also shot himself, was given a new face by doctors in Paris. It was judged a success, but he killed himself three years later. 

The team who had worked so hard to repair him were devastated, and their leader urged others in the field not to operate on other 'survivors' of suicide.

Katie underwent an

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