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Hannah Warren 1

Shelli Dankoff-Children's Hospital of Illinois

Despite her rare and difficult condition, Hannah exudes her dynamic personality.

Two-year-old takes first normal breath with bioartificial windpipe

by Amber Gulla
Apr 30, 2013

Hannah Warren 2

Shelli Dankoff-Children's Hospital of Illinois

Hannah's parents, Darryl and Young-mi Warren, expressed their gratitude and joy for the technological advances that made her successful surgery possible.

Hannah Warren is breathing normally for the first time in her life due to an artificial windpipe grown with her stem cells. Since birth, she has relied on a tube for air and nourishment. But thanks to a new surgery, all of that has changed. 

The 2-year-old continues to make "phenomenal progress" at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois after the windpipe transplant, said her father Darryl Warren.

Since her surgery on April 9, “she had to learn how to breathe with a more significant and open airway,” he said. On top of physical improvement, Hannah’s parents said she is busy getting back to being herself - very dynamic and “running the room.” And as Hannah recovers, her family is staying with a host family in Peoria.

Earlier this month, local and international surgeons performed the nine-hour transplant surgery at the Children’s Hospital in Peoria. What makes this surgery so unique is that the windpipe, or trachea, was created from nanofibers and Hannah’s own stem cells. No donor needed.

“We didn’t know if we could find one for the surgery,” said Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, lead surgeon and professor of regenerative surgery at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “How a child would react to this biological material was another component” since rejection of donated organs is a risk.

When Hannah reached about seven months old, her father Darryl, a school teacher in Korea, and Young-Mi Warren, her stay-at-home mom, contacted Dr. Mark Holterman on a referral. The pediatric surgeon was halfway across the world at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

After two years of doctors planning the procedure and making a technological advancement, Hannah was able to receive the transplant she needed. “We were totally floored by it,” said Darryl. “This is the only thing saving her from being a prisoner in the hospital for the rest of her life.”

The Warrens met Dr. Holterman in November of 2011. “His connection with the hospital made it the obvious choice to do this [surgery],” said Darryl.

Darryl was also the one to find Macchiarini by searching the internet for tracheal transplants. “Mark really did a lot of work for two years to get this doctor,” he said.

Even though not every surgery similar to Hannah’s has been successful, Macchiarini said the chance of her body rejecting the transplant is highly unlikely because the new trachea was made with her own stem cells.

“We are investigating all the tissues and organs in the chest such as the heart, lungs, esophagus and diaphragm,” said Macchiarini, who hopes this similar process can be applied to in the future.

Although the surgery was successful, more procedures are required as Hannah continues to grow. “The trachea she has now is the same as a 6 or 7-year-old” would have, said Darryl. “Perhaps she’ll need a new one down the road since the female trachea stops growing at around 12 years old.”

The next procedure, which is planned to be done within another year or so, is to connect her new trachea with her voice box and larynx so Hannah can learn to speak.

“She really is going to be a pioneer in this regenerative medicine,” said Darryl. “This is just the beginning.”