Cleveland, OH,
12:56 PM

MetroHealth therapists reunite with Katie Stubblefield, youngest U.S. face transplant recipient

Katie Stubblefield, 21, is the youngest face transplant recipient in the U.S. Prior to her surgery, she received countless hours of therapy from MetroHealth caregivers.

Liz Galvin, an occupational therapist, Mandy Simmons, a physical therapist, and Sue Ann Philippbar, a speech pathologist, were greeted with open arms by Katie and her parents, Alisia and Robb Stubblefield, at the screening of "Katie's New Face: A Family's Journey." The event was hosted by National Geographic and the Cleveland Clinic, whose surgeons performed the face transplant. Katie's transplant journey was documented in National Geographic's "The Story of a Face" following her attempted suicide, which left her disfigured, legally blind and unable to walk.

“Seeing her now, and how far she’s come, is just amazing,” says Mandy, who helped Katie with balance and mobility. “She has a renewed sense of life and she was even wearing heals."

Sue Ann helped Katie find her voice. “I worked with her on her speech and cognitive skills, which was very important since she had to be deemed competent to make the decision to have the transplant. By the end, she was very aware. She knew the risks and benefits and the decision was really truly hers.”

As for Katie's dedicated parents, “They are truly warrior parents,” explains Mandy. “Seeing how dedicated they are makes you want to work that much harder."

Katie and her parents have lived in Ronald McDonald House for years and will soon be moving to their own home. The Stubblefields have been unable to work since Katie's ordeal began.

"They have never left her side," says Mandy. "They are a special kind of family for sure." 

“What was so striking was how sincerely happy the family was to see us,” says Sue Ann. “They were just wanting to find out how we were doing.” But above all else is the reaction from Katie. “The most incredible thing is how grateful Katie is to have a second chance at life. Her gratefulness warms my heart over Thanksgiving, and we are all so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with her and her family.”

Pictured above from left to right: Alisia Stubblefield, Liz Galvin, Mandy Simmons, Katie Stubblefield, Sue Ann Philippbar, Robb Stubblefield

(Lisa Gerber, Katie's  primary physical therapist, was unable to attend the reunion.)

About the MetroHealth System

The MetroHealth System, Cuyahoga County’s public health system, is honoring its commitment to create a healthier community by building a new hospital on its main campus in Cleveland. The building, and the 25 acres of green space around it, are catalyzing the revitalization of MetroHealth’s West Side neighborhood.

MetroHealth will break ground on the new hospital in late 2018, using nearly $1 billion it borrowed on its own credit after dramatically improving its finances. In the past five years, MetroHealth’s operating revenue has increased by 44.5 percent and its number of employees by 21 percent. Today, its staff of 7,700 provides care at MetroHealth’s four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. In the past year, MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visits in its hospitals and health centers, 75 percent of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The health system is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and the only adult and pediatric burn center in the state of Ohio.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to teaching and research. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and its main campus hospital houses a Cleveland Metropolitan School District high school of science and health.

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