Man-made windpipe recipient almost refused life-saving operation

University College London

(CBS/AP) "Oh my God. If this has not been done, how can I agree to this?"

That's what cancer patient Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene said after learning that the windpipe transplant that could save his life would be the first of its kind.

But last week's operation was a success, and the 36-year-old Eritrean man now has a lab-made windpipe grown from his own stem cells.

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After almost refusing the lifesaving operation, Beyene talked to his Icelandic doctor and to his family - including his wife and two children in Eritrea - and agreed to the revolutionary transplant. "Then I just prayed and accepted it," he said.

Beyene had been diagnosed with advanced cancer while studying at a university in Iceland, and had developed a tumor that almost completely blocked his windpipe. His Icelandic doctor referred Beyene to Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, a surgeon at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute who has done windpipe transplants in the past. Macchiarini suggested replacing Beyene's damaged windpipe with one made in a laboratory.

Beyene's new windpipe was made using a spongy, plastic polymer to speed cell growth - a device that's been used before in tear ducts and blood vessels. Once the windpipe was constructed in a lab, Beyene's stem cells were used to create millions of other cells to line and coat the windpipe, so Beyene's body wouldn't reject the new organ.

Other windpipe transplants have been performed using donor windpipes and the patient's own stem cells to cover the new trachea, but Beyene's case is the first to use an entirely man-made organ.

He recently arrived back in Reykjavik and is now recovering at the national hospital. His doctors will run scans on his new windpipe every six months for at least the next five years to check for possible complications.

Beyene isn't sure when he will be released from the hospital but hopes to return to Eritrea to see his family soon. "I am very eager to see them and they are very eager to see me."