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Toddler is youngest to get lab-made windpipe

CHICAGO — A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.

Hannah Warren has been unable to breathe, eat, drink or swallow on her own since she was born in South Korea in 2010. Until the operation at Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, she had spent life in a hospital in Seoul.

The stem cells came from Hannah's bone marrow, extracted with a special needle inserted into her hip bone. They were seeded in a lab onto a plastic scaffold, where it took less than a week for them to multiply and create a new windpipe. It was implanted April 9 in a nine-hour procedure.

The surgery is only the sixth of its kind and the first to be performed in the United States.

Early signs indicate the windpipe is working, Hannah's doctors announced Tuesday, although she is still on a ventilator. They believe she will be able to live at home and lead a normal life. She will likely need a new windpipe in about five years, doctors said.

"We feel like she's reborn," said Hannah's father, Darryl Warren of Newfoundland.

Warren choked up and his wife, Lee Young Mi of South Korea, was teary-eyed at a hospital news conference Tuesday. The couple married after he moved to South Korea to teach English.

Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, a specialist in the field of regenerative medicine who developed the windpipe and led the complex operation, said the treatment made him realize this approach to building organs may work best with children, by harnessing their natural ability to grow and heal.

"Hannah's transplant has completely changed my thinking about regenerative medicine," said Macchiarini, a surgeon at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.