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 Peoria, Ill., 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 yesterday, although she is still on a ventilator. They believe she will eventually 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 yesterday. Hannah did not attend because she is still recovering from the surgery. She developed an infection after the operation but now is acting like a healthy 2-year-old, her doctors said.
Warren said he hopes the family can bring Hannah home for the first time in a month or so. Hannah turns 3 in August.
The stem-cell technique has been used to make other body parts besides windpipes and holds promise for treating other birth defects and childhood diseases, her doctors said.