Doctors rebuild 2-year-old boy's voice box in historic surgery

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(CNN Newsource/KAKE) -

A team of doctors at a children’s hospital in Memphis have successfully performed the world’s first voice box reconstruction and changed a little boy’s life.

Two-year-old Cooper Kilburn from Adamsville, Tennessee, was born with congenital high airway obstruction syndrome, meaning his trachea and larynx were blocked and he would have no voice or way to breath.

Dr. Jerome Thompson is an otolaryngologist at Le Boheur Children’s Hospital. He says, “The mortality rate’s easily high 90 percent for this diagnosis, possibly even higher."

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 recognized on ultrasound because of that freak accident, and if you’re religious, that accident is what brought all of this about. And otherwise, when cooper was born, he was going to die,” says Dr. Jerome Thompson.

Brooke Killburn says, “We had fetal surgery at 22 weeks so cooper would’ve just eventually had his first ultra a week or two prior to that and it would’ve been too late.”

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,” says Brad Killburn, Coopers dad.

Two years later, they tried again; using parts of cooper’s ribs, doctors were able to create a voice box and airway for cooper.

“I’d say my whole career has been preparing me for this,” says Dr. Thompson

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