Two-year-old Hannah Warren, born without the ability to breath or eat, has become the youngest patient in the world to benefit from a windpipe grown from her own stem cells.
Since her birth Warren had been unable to eat, breath, drink or swallow on her own. She had spent her entire life in a Seoul hospital where she was born and where she was expected to die.
The stem cells were extracted from Hannah’s hip bone and took less than a week to multiply. The three-inch tube was implanted during a successful nine-hour surgery.
The procedure was approved by the FDA as an experimental operation – only 1 percent of those born without a windpipe survive.
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The operation was conducted at St. Francis Medical Center, a catholic based facility. The hospital considered the operation part of their mission to provide charity care, but also to promote stem cell therapy without the use of human embryos.
Children make ideal candidates for the operation because they naturally heal and grow.
Dr. Paolo Macchiarini's, the Swedish based Italian doctor, pioneered the technique using man-made scaffolds in addition to those of a cadaver. In one case, Macchiarini successfully replaced a girl’s vein with a cadaver’s. Eventually, doctors hope to use the method to reproduce major organs like kidneys and livers.
Hannah can now breath with the help of a ventilator and is working with speech therapists to develop the use of her larynx. The family hopes to take Hannah home within the month, just before her third birthday.
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"This is her only chance,” said Darryl Warren, her father, “but she's got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one."