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 is redefining health care by going beyond medical treatment to improve the foundations of community health and well-being: affordable housing, a cleaner environment, economic opportunity and access to fresh food, convenient transportation, legal help and other services. The system strives to become as good at preventing disease as it is at treating it.

The system’s more than 600 doctors, 1,700 nurses and 7,800 employees go to work each day with a mission of service, to their patients and to the community. As Cuyahoga County’s safety-net health system, MetroHealth plays an essential role in the region, caring for anyone and everyone, regardless of an ability to pay.

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth operates four hospitals, four emergency departments and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites throughout Cuyahoga County. The system serves more than 300,000 patients, two-thirds of whom are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

MetroHealth is home to Cuyahoga County’s most experienced Level I Adult Trauma Center, verified since 1992, and Ohio’s only adult and pediatric trauma and burn center.

As an academic medical center, MetroHealth is committed to research and to teaching and training tomorrow’s caregivers. Each active staff physician holds a faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Its main campus hospital houses the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Lincoln-West School of Science & Health, the only high school in America located inside a hospital.

Knowing that good health is about much more than good medical care, MetroHealth has launched the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ (Health, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment), which uses a coordinated, collaborative and strategic approach to help patients with non-medical needs such as healthy food, stable housing and job training.

The MetroHealth Glick Center, a new 11-floor hospital, is under construction on the system’s main campus in Cleveland and is scheduled to welcome its first patients in October 2022. The billion-dollar project is the cornerstone of a wider neighborhood revitalization effort led by the system and its partners in the community.

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