A Paradise, Newfoundland and Labrador man said his daughter is now able to breathe on her own for the first time in her life, following a historic operation.
Hannah Warren was born in South Korea in 2010 without a windpipe. She made medical history on April 9, when she underwent surgery in the U.S. to implant a windpipe that was grown from her own stem cells.
Hannah's father, Darryl Warren, who spoke with CBC News from the Children's Hospital of Illinois, said she's recovering well from the massive nine-hour surgery.
"There's been ups and downs, there's been a step forward, and two or three steps back. She's had to deal with some complications, but all of them are manageable," he said.
Warren said by the third week after the surgery, his daughter was able to become fully conscious, and started to breathe on her own for the first time.
He said it was an incredible thing to see.
"We never, ever, ever thought that this would happen to her. She was a prisoner with this tube in her mouth. [It] didn't allow her to leave the hospital, so she was a prisoner there. And we knew that this was the only way she could ever leave the hospital, was if she got a trachea transplant," Warren said.
"Once she got that, and we actually saw her breathing on her own, without the tube in her mouth, it was one of those moments where, as parents, or anyone involved really, you're just like, 'Oh, wow. This is incredible, miraculous, and amazing.'"
Road to rehabilitation
Since birth, Hannah has been fed through a stomach tube. While she is still getting nutrients through that tube, she is slowly being introduced to food around her mouth.
"She was given a lollipop... that we brought back from Korea, and she sucked on it, smelled it, and she really enjoyed it," her father said.
Warren said his daughter's mobility is still severely limited, because of recovery suction tubes that are still attached to her, but she's anxious to get out of the hospital bed.
"She points at her shoes, she wants to put her shoes on, she wants to go walking," he said.
"Just [Wednesday] morning, they had her on a mat, a blue mat next to her hospital bed, and they were doing a painting with her. So this is the start now of her rehabilitation in terms of mobility and being able to walk again – just being free from the hospital bed."
Warren said it's been excruciating over the past two years. He recalled when Hannah was born, she was blue and wasn't breathing.
"After she got transferred from her birth hospital to Seoul National Hospital, after all the testing they did, they discovered that she had tracheal agenisis. And there was really no surgical option they could provide." he said.
"[Doctors] did say 'We're sorry, we can't help your daughter, and we're so sorry that she will most likely die soon.'"
But Hannah held on, and was doing well at five months old. Warren started searching desperately online for some way to help his daughter.
That's when he stumbled upon the work of Dr. Paolo Macchiarini in Europe.
"That is when we started to get real hope," Warren said.
He then met with Dr. Mark Holterman, who had previously visited Hannah, and the doctor vowed to try to help Warren's little girl.
Warren said Dr. Holterman contacted Dr. Macchiarini and got the ball rolling on her transplant surgery.
Plans to go back to Korea
Warren said he hopes that Hannah will be able to leave the hospital in a month.
Then the family plans to stay in Peoria, Illinois, near the hospital, for another month. But the plan is to eventually head back to South Korea.
"A very important part of going back there is to bring Hannah to the same NICU in Seoul National Hospital, where the nurses and her doctors took such great care of her, to walk her in as a visitor, and then walk her back out," Warren said.
He expressed his gratitude for the people back home in Newfoundland and Labrador, who held fundraisers like bake sales and bingo nights, to help Hannah.
"All of these things happened over and over again, with friends, with family, with people I have never even met before," Warren said.
"I want to say 'thank you,' because you really don't know how much you helped us get through this."