World’s first voice box reconstruction performed in Memphis

Updated: Aug. 3, 2019 at 5:21 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A team of doctors at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital are making history.

They successfully created the world's first voice box reconstruction, changing a little boy's life.

Cooper Kilburn, a 2-year-old from Adamsville, Tennessee, was born with Congenital High Airway Obstruction Syndrome.

This means his trachea and larynx were blocked and he would have no voice or way to breathe.

“The mortality rate is easily high, 90 percent for this diagnosis, possibly even higher,” said Doctor Jerome Thompson, otolaryngologist.

The diagnosis was made when Cooper’s mom, Brooke, was 17 weeks pregnant. She was in a car wreck and an ultra sound, shortly after the crash, revealed something was wrong.

“If it hadn’t been reconfirmed by an ultrasound because of that freak accident and if you’re religious, an accident is what brought all this about. And otherwise, when Cooper was born he was going to die,” said Thompson.

Their journey began from there.

“We had fetal surgery at 22 weeks so Cooper would've just had his first ultra a week or two prior and it would've been too late,” said Brooke Kilburn.

That surgery wasn't fully successful, so they were sent to Le Bonheur.

Doctors implanted a trach in Cooper's throat and gave him a ventilator, but he was still at risk for not being able to talk.

“The mortality rate of trach-dependent patients tends to be high,” said Brad Kilburn, Cooper’s father.

So they tried again two years later.

Using parts of Cooper’s ribs, doctors were able to create a voice box and airway for him. It’s something that was never successfully done before.

"I would say my whole career has been preparing me for this,” said Thompson.

Now, five months later, Cooper is beginning to make noises and only using his ventilator at night.

"One day Cooper is going to be telling this and we’re not gonna have to,” said Brooke Kilburn. "We can just sit back and think how strong he is.”

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