A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.
Hannah Warren has been unable to breathe, eat, drink or swallow on her own since she was born in South Korea in 2010. Until the operation at a central Illinois hospital, she had spent her entire life in a hospital in Seoul. Doctors there told her parents there was no hope, and they expected her to die.
The stem cells came from Hannah’s bone marrow, extracted with a special needle inserted into her hip bone. They were seeded in a lab onto a plastic scaffold, where it took less than a week for them to multiply and create a new windpipe.
About the size of a 3-inch tube of penne pasta, it was implanted April 9 in a nine-hour procedure.
Early signs indicate the windpipe is working, Hannah’s doctors announced Tuesday, although she still is on a ventilator. They believe she eventually will be able to live at home and lead a normal life.
“We feel like she’s reborn,” said Hannah’s father, Darryl Warren.
“They hope that she can do everything that a normal child can do, but it’s going to take time. This is a brand- new road that all of us are on,” he said in a telephone interview. “This is her only chance, but she’s got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one.”
Warren choked up, and his wife, Lee Young-mi, was teary-eyed at a hospital news conference Tuesday. Hannah did not attend because she still is recovering from the surgery.