Taking advantage of a sunny spring day, Katie and her parents, Robb and Alesia Stubblefield, indulge in a nap in a park near the Cleveland Clinic. With Katie in a wheelchair, the three explored the park, wandering amid blossoming trees and singing birds. The outing came after Katie had spent a month in the hospital. To reposition her eyes, she had surgery to implant what’s known as a distraction device. In the three years before her transplant, Katie was hospitalized more than a dozen times.
The Emotional Journey of Photographing a Face Transplant
Maggie Steber and Lynn Johnson reflect on capturing the story of Katie Stubblefield, the youngest face transplant patient in the U.S.
The face, detached from its organ donor, rested on a tray. The surgeons who had removed it stared, pausing before transplanting it. “It was just a breathless moment,” says photographer Lynn Johnson. “People were sort of stunned.”
Everything stopped for an instant of “reverence,” she says, as she recorded the moment. “And then they gathered themselves up and got down to stitching it on.”
The remarkable photograph became the lead image in National Geographic magazine’s cover story on the surgery in the September issue.
Johnson was one of two veteran National Geographic photographers who documented Katie Stubblefield’s journey as her face, severely damaged during a suicide attempt with a rifle, was reconstructed and then replaced.
For two and a half