A toddler, Hannah Warren aged two, is the youngest person ever to receive a bio-engineered organ. Born to a Canadian father and South Korean mother, the young girl was born unable to “breathe, speak, swallow, eat or drink on her own since birth,” reports MSN.
Organ transplant using her own stem cells
Given little chance for survival, the young girl was flown from South Korea to Peoria, Illinois, where she received a 9-hour windpipe transplant with an artificial trachea made of plastic fibers and stem cells from the toddler’s own bone marrow. The stem cells will help the body be more accepting of the transplant, eventually allowing the girl to live a normal life.
The toddler was the youngest person to receive such a transplant and only the sixth worldwide. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the procedure “experimental,” allowable only because, without it, there is very little chance the toddler would survive. In 99 percent of cases in which a person is born without a trachea, the result is death, according to CNN, so this operation may be the only hope for a normal existence.
While the tube-like organ created from plastic fibers and the girl’s stem cells was transplanted during the surgery at Children’s Hospital of Illinois, how that artificial windpipe adapts is less clear. It is believed that the stem cells “can pick up signals from their environment and integrate with existing tissue,” suggests CNN.
Lead Surgeon Dr. Paolo Macchiarini of the Advanced Center for Translational Regenerative Medicine at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, believes children make ideal candidates for this surgery because their bodies are still growing and have natural healing abilities.
From hospital bed to home
Confined to a hospital bed since birth, her father, Darryl Warren, said, “All we have ever wanted since Hannah was born was to be able to bring her home and be a regular family.” Much like her family‘s sentiments, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini considers her a “miracle,” noting that she would be transformed from a virtual prisoner limited to a hospital bed to an active child, running around with her sibling.
Prior to the surgery, the toddler “spent every day of her life in intensive care, kept alive by a tube that substituted for the windpipe” to connect her mouth and lungs, according to CNN. In the month since her surgery, Hannah is now largely breathing on her own and responding to hospital staff.