Tenn. doctors change 2-year-old's life with world's first voice box reconstruction

Cooper Kilburn, 2, was born with a blocked trachea and larynx, but two years later, doctors at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., were able to create a voice box and airway for him. (Source: Le Bonheur Children's Hospital)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC/Gray News) - A team of doctors at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis have made 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, giving him 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 Kilburn, was 17 weeks pregnant. She was in a car wreck and an ultrasound, 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,” Thompson said.

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,” Brooke Kilburn said.

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

Doctors implanted a tracheostomy tube 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,” Thompson said.

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,” Brooke Kilburn said. "We can just sit back and think how strong he is.”

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