His Chance of Surviving Birth Was 5%. He Did—and More

Cooper Kilburn, 2, has successful reconstruction of airway, larynx
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2019 9:55 AM CDT
He Was Born With No Airway. In World First, He Got One
Stock photo.   (Getty Images)

"We planned for this surgery from day one of Cooper's life." Two years later, it happened—successfully. That quote comes from Dr. Jerome Thompson, an otolaryngologist who led the team that pulled off a world first at Memphis' Le Bonheur Children's Hospital: successfully giving Cooper Kilburn an airway, larynx, and the chance to speak for the first time. The Adamsville, Tenn., toddler's condition was discovered in a 16-week ultrasound. Babies born with congenital high airway obstruction syndrome can have no airway and rarely survive—the hospital put Cooper's chance at 5%. Cooper managed to do so in part via the tracheotomy he used to breathe; he was delivered through a type of partial C-section that allowed him to keep receiving oxygen from the placenta while the tracheostomy was performed.

"Our goal ... was to create an anatomical airway, get him off the trach, and, possibly, give him a voice," Thompson said in a release. Two of Cooper's ribs were removed and used to construct the voice box and airway in what was a four-hour procedure on February 27. Six weeks later the stent that gave his new airway its structure was removed and the airway held, marking the first time "an entire anatomical airway" has been created through surgery, reports the Memphis Business Journal. Ten weeks after the surgery, Cooper's mom heard sounds from her son for the first time: laughter. Thompson tells WREG Cooper will be able to do things he otherwise wouldn't have been able to, like play sports. (More surgery stories.)

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