Opening Tiny Airways

Fresno, CA "He's my baby, and there's nothing that can change that," Combs told Ivanhoe. "He's our third child, all adopted, but they're my kids."

Just 3 pounds at birth, Jaden caught pneumonia. The tubes he needed caused scarring in his throat. Eventually, nearly 85 percent of his tiny airway was blocked.

"His airway was not going to stay open," Combs said. "It was only the size of a 6-month in utero. He was really struggling."

The standard procedure is a tracheotomy. Doctors make an incision in the neck and insert a plastic tube to help the child breathe, but it's tough to take care of. In 1 percent of cases, the tube can get blocked, suffocating the child.

"It requires meticulous care, nursing care, suctioning, monitoring," Diego Preciado, M.D., a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Preciado recommended another option -- take a piece of cartilage from Jaden's rib cage, mold it into shape, and then transplant it into his throat to form a wider airway.

"The rib graft is essentially spreading, expanding, distracting the airway apart, making a new roof and a new floor," Dr. Preciado said.

Jaden was sedated for over a week after surgery as his throat healed. The goal -- the airway grows as the baby grows.

"The primary risk of this procedure is that it won't work and the child needs a tracheotomy afterward," Dr. Preciado said.

Three weeks after surgery, Jaden's scars are healing and 90 percent of his airway is clear.

"He's just acting like a regular healthy baby," Combs said.

A happy ending and a new beginning.

"I just can't wait to see what he grows into, and that's kind of fun being an adoptive mom, because you don't have a lot of expectations that they'll be just like you," Combs said.

The best candidates for this procedure are kids between the ages of 1 and 4. It can be performed on adults to replace a tracheotomy, but children have a better outcome.

Children's National Medical Center
Washington, D.C.

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