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Youngest face transplant recipient thanks her team at MetroHealth

It was an emotional reunion at MetroHealth for Katie Stubblefield and those who helped her.

CLEVELAND — There was an emotional reunion at MetroHealth Medical Center on Tuesday, where a woman thanked staff who helped her prepare for a difficult and groundbreaking surgery.

In May 2017, Katie Stubblefield received a face transplant. Just 21 years old, she was the youngest person to go through the procedure.

RELATED: Youngest face transplant recipient in U.S. history finds hope after attempting suicide

Katie’s family had moved to Northeast Ohio since the Cleveland Clinic performed transplants. As they waited for a match, they turned to Metro for occupational and physical rehabilitation.

“She didn’t really even have like the control of her body to sit up in a wheelchair,” said Sue Ann Philippbar, speech pathologist. “She had no nose, she had no lips, a lot of flaps of skin.”

Philippbar worked with Katie as she learned to speak and walk, and ultimately, learn she had a donor.

Doctors had found a match in a 31-year-old single mother who died from an overdose.

“God just sent us the right people. I mean we had the perfect doctor, we had the perfect therapist,” said Alesia Stubblefield, Katie’s mother.

Today Katie does not take her opportunity lightly, which is why she returned to Metro for the first time since her surgery.

“I’m so much more grateful for life,” she said.

Others are grateful too.

“She’s really taught us a lot about being, taking life as it comes to you and dealing with what’s in front of you,” Sue Ann Philippbar said. “She’s inspired me certainly.”

Katie will soon have another surgery to help improve her speech.

The family is also exploring procedures to help her vision. At one time, she could not see, but is now able to detect light and silhouettes.

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