WATCH: How Faith Helped Katie Stubblefield, America’s Youngest Face Transplant Recipient, Want to Live Again

Katie Stubblefield (L) before she shot herself in the face. Katie after the injury (C) and Katie as she now appears after a full face transplant (R).

Four years after she shot herself in the face in a botched suicide attempt that left her grossly disfigured at age 18, Katie Stubblefield has become the youngest person in America to receive a face transplant.

Now 21 years old, Katie is giving thanks to her faith, family and the work of a host of medical experts from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio where she underwent an intense 31-hour full-face transplant for her second chance at life.

“To reach this point of recovery has oftentimes been a difficult road to travel, but I’m thankful there’s been a road,” she said in a Cleveland Clinic release.

The injury to Katie’s face had left her unable to see, speak, breathe through her nose, swallow food, chew or move her tongue. The groundbreaking procedure replaced 100 percent of Katie’s facial tissue, and required the skills of experts from 15 specialties, including 11 surgeons who worked in two operating rooms.

Doctors replaced Katie’s scalp, forehead, upper and lower eyelids, eye sockets, nose, upper cheeks, upper jaw and half her lower jaw, upper and lower teeth, some facial nerves, facial muscles and skin to give her her new look.

Katie’s journey is chronicled in an extensive and graphic report by National Geographic in which her will to live is much more palpable than that fateful day in 2014 when her teenage self thought she would be better off dead.

“I’m just very thankful to be alive,” Katie said in the report. When he mother, Alesia Stubblefield, asked “even though you have to go through all this?” she nodded her head indicating “yes.”

Cleveland Clinic surgeon Brian Gastman, who was an integral part of the team involved in Katie’s transplant procedure, highlighted why Katie needed a face transplant after her devastating injury.

“It’s hard to describe the importance of a face but being able to kiss, being able to show emotion, those are basic parts we take for granted every day. We project to the people in front of us and they project back,” he told National Geographic.

Katie’s recovery since the surgery, he said, has been remarkable.

“We’ve been very surprised by the remarkable recovery she’s made. She’s by far not done and she has a long way to go but in this case, we’re talking about someone who’s had the most extensive trauma imaginable,” he said.

Prior to going into the surgery Katie’s family showered her with prayers and she is asked in the documentary if she had any second thoughts about it. She didn’t hesitate with her response.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair