Two-year-old gets windpipe made from her own stem cells

(CBS News) -- Two-year-old Hannah Warren lived her whole life in an intensive care unit with a breathing tube.

Hannah Warren and her parents Darryl and Young-mi in a post-op room at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, April 26, 2013.
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

She was born without a windpipe and has been unable to talk, swallow, or eat on her own.

Her parents, Darryl and Young-mi Warren were told Hannah would not live past age six.

"Hannah didn't have a chance. There was no hope. We were waiting for her to die essentially," said Darryl Warren.

Her only hope was an artificial windpipe; an experimental device which had been tried in only five other patients, none in the United States, and none of them children.

Her medical team custom-designed a tube using tiny plastic fibers. It was then bathed in stem cells taken from Hannah's bone marrow to promote tissue growth.

Surgeons perform a landmark windpipe transplant operation on Hannah Warren, 2, at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

In a nine-hour surgery on April 9, the bio-engineered windpipe was placed inside Hannah.

When she woke up after the operation she was breathing on her own for the first time in her life.

Dr. Mark Holterman was one of Hannah's surgeons. "Lately it's just been kind of fun kind of watching her to learn how to live without a tube hanging out of her mouth. So now her lips are together she's learning about her environment with two new senses, before she never tasted and she never smelled," said Holterman.

"She looks so much older, so much more mature, stronger, more beautiful. She was reborn again," said Darryl Warren.

Three weeks after the surgery, she's active and able to even taste her first lollipop.

The windpipe doctors created using Hannah Warren's own stem cells.
Video courtesy OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, Ill./David Tomlianovich, Videographer

Her doctors believe in a few months, she will be able to go home for the first time and may even be able to talk.

"We've been waiting over a thousand days to bring Hannah home. That's a long wait for your daughter. We are absolutely thrilled and blessed that she's getting there. She's almost there and she'll be home soon," said her father.

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(Left: Stem cell technology can offer sight.)

Since the device is made from her own cells, there is little danger of Hannah's body rejecting it. And what makes this technology so exciting is the promise of being able to manufacture organs in a matter of weeks without waiting for a donor.

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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