Hannah Warren, the pigtailed toddler who made history this year as the youngest person to receive an artificial windpipe, died Saturday from complications, according to a statement from the Children's Hospital of Illinois.
"Following her successful, pioneering trachea transplant surgery on April 9, 2013, and despite all efforts, Hannah was unable to overcome additional health issues that were identified as her care progressed," the Peoria, Ill.-based hospital said in a statement. "Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Warren family."
Hannah, 2, was born with tracheal agenesis, a rare and usually fatal birth defect. In April, doctors at the Children's Hospital of Illinois implanted a windpipe made of nanofiber mesh coated with Hannah's own bone marrow cells.
Although the trachea was "performing well," Hannah's lung function "went from fairly good, to weak, to poor," according to her family.
"Our hearts are broken," Hannah's dad, Darryl, mom, Young-Mi, and sister, Dana, said in a statement on the family's GiveForward.com fundraising page. "She is a pioneer in stem-cell technology and her impact will reach all corners of our beautiful Earth … She's free now and with her Angel Wings she will perform many more miracles in Heaven."
Hannah would have been 3 in August.
Although trachea transplants had been done before, Hannah was the first child to receive a tissue-engineered trachea devoid of any donor cells, according to Children's Hospital of Illinois. At the time, lead surgeon Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, professor of regenerative surgery at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said the transplant crossed frontiers by eliminating the need for a human donor and a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs.
"She will go from being a virtual prisoner in a hospital bed to running around and playing with her sister and enjoying a normal life, which is a beautiful thing," Macchiarini said after the surgery.
Macchiarini and his team have transplanting artificial tracheas since 2008. In July 2012, 13-year-old Ciaran Finn-Lynch became the first child to receive a donor trachea stripped of cells and reseeded with his own.
But Hannah was the youngest patient to receive an artificial trachea, and the first child to receive an organ made solely from synthetic materials and her own cells.
"Although regenerative medicine remains in the early stages for pediatric patients, progress is being made. Hannah, and the physicians caring for her, helped advance this area of medical practice which is only at its very beginning stages," the hospital said in a statement today.
"Even at this time of loss and grief, we, and Hannah's family, take comfort in the knowledge that the efforts of her physicians and the care team working with them will benefit and serve other children and adults in the years to come."
Hannah's heartbroken family took to their "Help Hannah Breathe" fundraising page to share the news of her death and thank friends for their love and support.
"She gave us over 34 months of everlasting memories," they said. "We will forever miss her infectious personality and miraculous strength and spirit."