One-year-old Maddie Caputo was born with 75 percent of her vocal cords fused together. Thanks to a recent surgery, she is now able to say her first words.
Mike and Becca Caputo, both 35, decided to have their daughter undergo an eight-hour laryngotracheal reconstruction surgery in August. Before the surgery, Maddie had tremendous difficulty talking or crying.
"When people heard her cry they would say, ‘Oh my gosh, does she have croup?’ because it sounded like a raspy whisper," Becca said, according to Inside Edition. "It was quiet and weak."
Doctors first discovered Maddie's condition when she was 4 months old, New York Daily News reports. They could not operate at the time her vocal cord gland was too thick and would close up.
Another surgery was planned for a few months later, but was pushed back after a medical scare landed Maddie in the intensive care unit in April.
Maddie suffered near-fatal septic shock after getting an unrelated infection. Her airway was so tiny that medics had to use a breathing tube designed for premature babies to save her.
"They saved her life that day," said her mother. "It was very scary."
Maddie remained in the ICU for three weeks, though she fortunately made a full recovery and was healthy enough to undergo surgery at a later date.
"At one point, things were looking really bleak, but she fought on," said Mike, who works in product management for a technology company. "It is like she has some kind of superpower."
The surgery was invasive, but ultimately successful. Doctors expanded her airway by sewing in cartilage taken from her ribcage. They then cut her vocal cords, which would allow her to make louder sounds.
Maddie said her first word, "da-da," 16 days after the surgery, New York Daily News reports.
"You can tell Maddie’s voice is different, but she definitely has a voice now," said Becca, a nurse from Aurora, Illinois. "Now her cry is louder and she has started forming words. She says ‘momma,’ ‘da-da,’ and ‘bye-bye.' You would look at her and never know anything of what she went through."
"It was incredible to hear her," Becca added. "It is a miracle for us."
Maddie now makes a variety of sounds to her parents and her 3-year-old brother, Andrew.
Dr. Jonathan Ida, who treated Maddie at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, said that she is "recovering beautifully."
He said that while she will never have a normal voice, it will improve as she ages.
"We continue to monitor airway reconstruction patients for years to ensure the grafted cartilage is continuing to grow with the child," Ida said. "So the ultimate outcome cannot be determined yet. As of now, however, Maddie is on track to do very well."