The first-ever trachea transplant in the United States, which also might be first in the world, was performed on a 56-year-old woman from New York City. Sonia Sein, the recipient from the Bronx, was admitted in a hospital six years ago after a severe asthma attack. Doctors had inserted a tube down her throat to help her breathe but being intubated for so long damaged her windpipe. She underwent multiple surgeries to repair but all were failed, hence, doctors had to cut a hole in her throat and thread a tracheostomy tube, leaving her at constant risk of suffocation.
But the former social worker researched trachea transplants and called the Mount Sinai hospital in New York regularly as their researchers were working on the concept.Sein told NPR, she called them every other day “until somebody called me back and gave an appointment. I think they got tired of me.” Four years ago, she was informed that Mount Sinai surgeons were not prepared to perform it on humans yet but, last year she was approached by Dr. Eric Genden, a surgeon at Mount Sinai and researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine who agreed to give a try to the risky procedure.
Various methods are used to repair or reconstruct damaged windpipes in which doctors remove the damaged sections or replace them with prosthetics, lag-grown tissue or self-supplied tissue taken from patients’ skin.
But these techniques might not successfully work as trachea is flexible to expand and collapse as we breathe and is lined with tiny hairlike filaments that help in sweeping particles out of the lungs.
Genden explained it might seem like a simple thing as it just appears like a tube but it’s a highly complex organ. The biggest challenge during the transplant is to get blood to the trachea. For decades, it has been believed the blood supply was led by a network of tiny vessels which is nearly impossible to reconnect surgically, according to a paper published in the 1960s by an influential scientist at Harvard.
The operation lasted for 18-hours, requiring a team of more than 50 specialists who transplanted a donor trachea and reconnected the complex web of tiny blood vessels. Genden revealed they knew they had jumped the first hurdle when they saw the organ come to life after it was replaced with donors’.
Sein is now breathing “wonderfully” and recovering at home, according to Daily Mail.