How a Transplanted Face Transformed Katie Stubblefield’s Life

At 18, Katie Stubblefield lost her face. At 21, she became the youngest person in the U.S. to undergo the still experimental surgery. Follow her incredible story.

Sixteen hours into a transplant operation at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, surgeons finish the intricate task of removing the face from an organ donor. Awed by the sight and by the gravity of their work, the team falls suddenly silent as staff members document the face in between its two lives. The surgeons would spend 15 more hours attaching the face to Katie Stubblefield.
Photograph by Lynn Johnson

The face lies on a surgical tray, eyes empty and unseeing, mouth agape, as if exclaiming, “Oh!”

Sixteen hours ago surgeons in Operating Room 19 at the Cleveland Clinic began the delicate work of removing the face from a 31-year-old woman who was declared legally and medically dead three days earlier. Soon they will take it to a 21-year-old woman who has waited more than three years for a new face.

For a moment, the face rests in its astonished solitude.

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