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Youngest Face Transplant Recipient Speaks Out After Her Life-Changing Surgery

ITV

It's without a doubt that science is incredible.

Through centuries of research and tests, we've discovered ways to find immunization for diseases and provide ourselves with a better quality of life.

But that's not all they've done.

In fact, in 2005, doctors have even seemed to accomplish the impossible: perform a successful face transplant.

Although the complex operation is rarely done (it's estimated only 40 have ever been completed), when one occurs, an individual's new lease on life is often celebrated in the media.

This includes 21-year-old Katie Stubblefield, who recently became the youngest person in the world to receive the surgery.

When the Cleveland, Ohio native was 18 years old, she attempted suicide by shooting herself in the face with her brother's hunting rifle.

While Stubblefield survived, she lost parts of her forehead, her nose and sinuses, most of her mouth, the bones that made up her jaw, and the front of the face.

"It was not great," Dr. Brian Gastman, told the National Geographic. "Her brain was basically exposed, and I mean, we're talking seizures and infections and all kinds of problems. Forget the face transplant; we're talking about just being alive."

Fortunately, after 22 operations and more than 1,000 hours of physical therapy, the young woman told Good Morning Britain: "I feel so much better."

Stubblefield was with her parents Robb and Alesia appeared on the UK talk show to tell her story.

Even though Stubblefield is still relearning how to talk, she was still able to tell her tale of recovery.

After Adrea Schneider, 31, passed away from a drug overdose, her grandmother agreed to donate her face, giving Stubblefield what she calls, "A second chance at life."

Eleven surgeons had participated in the 31-hour surgery, and while her parents were frightened by the ordeal, they still had hope.

"It blew us off the map, but we have clung to one another and we've clung to our faith," Alesia said on the program.

"We know that Katie had an impulsive moment and it changed her life and it changed all of our lives. But we're so grateful she's alive and neurologically she's all there."

"We've still got a journey ahead, though."

Rob added that while Stubblefield "still have a long way to go," they're happy at the progress their daughter had made.

"It's been a challenge, something that step by step, day by day we have been able to go through each of the situations and we are very thankful that as we have encountered each challenge we are able to make it," he explained.

Like all recipients of a face transplant, there's a chance that Stubblefield may reject her new face and have it removed. Because of this, she'll be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.

In the meantime, she told the National Geographic that she's ready to attend college and potentially find a career in counselling.

"So many people have helped me; now I want to help other people," she said

[H/T: National Geographic, Daily Mail]

Maya has been working at Shared for a year. She just begrudgingly spent $200 on a gym membership. Contact her at maya@shared.com