Within the span of a week, Hannah Warren’s stem cells created a completely new trachea which will finally enable the 2 1/2-year-old South Korean girl to speak her first words.
Doctors then transplanted that windpipe into her throat during a groundbreaking surgery last month in Illinois. The procedure was the first of its kind on a child so young.
Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria — along with Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, professor of Regenerative Surgery at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden — completed the surgery over the course of nine hours.
“The most amazing thing, which for a little girl is a miracle, is that this transplant has not only saved her life, but it will eventually enable her to eat, drink and swallow, even talk, just like any other normal child,” Macchiarini, lead surgeon in the case, told reporters Tuesday.
“She will go from being a virtual prisoner in a hospital bed to running around and playing with her sister and enjoying a normal life, which is a beautiful thing.”
The Children’s Hospital of Illinois is part of the OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, a Catholic organization advocating for stem cell research that doesn’t use human embryos, the Washington Post said.
Hannah’s operation used stem cells from her own bone marrow and plastic fibers. Because no donor organ was used, the procedure virtually eliminates the chance that her immune system will reject the transplant, the hospital said in a press release.
Hannah was born with the normally fatal defect and had spent her life in hospital, unable to speak, eat, drink or breathe without help.
Without a new windpipe, her prognosis was dire.
Her Korean mother, Young-Mi, and Canadian father, Darryl, had heard of the possible stem cell procedure, but couldn’t afford the high cost.
After the family contacted them, doctors and the Children’s Hospital agreed to perform the surgery for free.
To create the windpipe, surgeons removed Hannah’s stem cells from her hip. They used a plastic scaffold and the cells created the trachea.
She will likely need a new windpipe in a few years as she grows, the New York Times said.
“All we have ever wanted since Hannah was born was to be able to bring her home and be a regular family,” Darryl Warren said on the hospital website.
“Hannah has been through so much and defied the odds. She is our little miracle.”