Procedure makes medical history at Peoria hospital

By Anna Yee

April 30, 2013 Updated Jul 8, 2013 at 2:54 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Hannah Warren is making history just by breathing.

The two-year-old from South Korea was born with a rare and often fatal abnormality.

She was born with no windpipe and couldn't breathe on her own, but on April 9 at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, Hannah's surgical team went where no doctors had gone before.

That 9-hour operation is making national headlines.

"This would be the future of organ transplantation," said Dr. Richard Pearl, co-surgeon on Hannah's case. "This is like a new chapter in medicine, and you're kind of looking at it right now. You're looking into the future right now."

Hannah is the first child ever in the world to receive a bio-artificial trachea, made from her own stem cells, which virtually eliminates the risk of her body rejecting the transplant.

"We used non-embryonic, non-embryonic stem cells," said Dr. Mark Holterman, another co-surgeon. "There are no ethical concerns, no scientific concerns."

And no financial concerns.

Everything was paid for through donations and charity and research funds.

"Every time that we can help children especially, it is just something unique, and it is worth all the money of this universe," said Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, lead surgeon on Hannah's case.

Hannah's doctors say she'll eventually need to get a replacement trachea as she grows older, but for now, the thought of bringing Hannah to a home outside hospital walls helps her parents, Darryl and Young-Mi Warren, breathe easier.

"We're just so blessed that she was able to get this really unbelievable opportunity," said Hannah's father. "She really only had one chance, and she has it. She got it."

Doctors say Hannah's recovery is going smoothly.

Last Friday, she was able to taste a lollipop for the first time.

She's staying at the Children's Hospital of Illinois for at least the next couple of months, as she learns to breathe, eat, and swallow with her new trachea.

As for doing another groundbreaking transplant here, doctors say they're keeping the doors open to it.