The Associated Press is reporting on the state-of-the-art science that gave little Hannah Warren a new lease on life, enabling the child to breathe, eat, drink and swallow on her own for the first time since she was born. Until the operation that took place in a Catholic hospital in central Illinois, she had spent her entire life in a hospital in Seoul where doctors fully expected her to die.
But her parents refused to give up. Hannah's father, Darryl Warren of Newfoundland and her mother, Lee Young-mi of South Korea, read about Dr. Paolo Macchiarini of the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm who had successfully constructed stem-cell based tracheas. In the meantime, they met Dr. Mark Holterman, a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria who met Hannah's family while on a business trip to South Korea.
When the parents realized surgery was possible, but they were unable to pay for it, Dr. Holterman arranged to bring Dr. Macchiarini to his hospital in Peoria where the surgery, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was performed for free.
The hospital, which is part of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, considers the operation to be part of their mission to provide quality charity care to patients, and also as a way to champion the field of adult stem cell research as opposed to human embryonic stem cell research which is against Catholic teaching.
The process involved extracting stem cells from Hannah's bone marrow, then seeding them onto a plastic scaffold. It took less than a week for them to multiply and create a new windpipe which is described as resembling a 3-inch tube of penne pasta. It was surgically implanted on April 9 in a procedure that took nine-hours to complete.
Thus far, the windpipe appears to be working and although Hannah is still on a ventilator, she is expected to recover and go home soon where she will join her older sister.
"We feel like she's reborn," Darryl Warren told the AP in a telephone interview. "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. This is her only chance but she's got a fantastic one and an unbelievable one."
Scientists have been using adult stem cells to grow bladders and urethras and are hoping to use the method to create solid organs such as kidneys and livers.
Warren was overjoyed as he watched his daughter get her first taste of food - a lollipop - and says she already has a preference for chocolate Korean lollipops rather than the American version.
"I asked her, `Is it good?'" he said, "and she immediately nodded her head."
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