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Trachea transplant gives teen her voice again


November 19, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Robert Vito

MIAMI (CNN) -- When Katie Koerner went on the air to address her fellow patients at a hospital, she could find the words to express her gratitude. The Miami teen-ager had her voice once again, thanks to what's believed to have been the first trachea transplant in the United States.

For more than a year following a traumatic injury to her trachea -- commonly called the windpipe -- Koerner, 15, could not speak without the use of an electronic device. A few weeks ago, she was able to begin speaking on her own.

Two months after her surgery, she was a guest announcer at the in-house radio station at the hospital where she's a patient. (450K/8 sec. QuickTime movie) movie icon

"I feel great," Koerner says. "They've really helped me out." Her voice is soft, slightly hoarse, but otherwise normal.


The operation came after her doctors learned the procedure had been performed successfully in London and in Bonn, Germany.

"There was a sense of excitement that we finally had an approach to a problem that had perplexed surgeons for years," said Dr. Redmond Burke.

Koerner's physicians say European doctors learned nearly 20 years ago what many other doctors still don't understand -- how to preserve a trachea from a person who just died so it will function and can be transplanted into a recipient.


The teen's mother said the transplant was her daughter's last resort. Operations in the past had failed to correct the problem, and the trachea passage had grown so narrow that it was like breathing through a straw.

"It was very difficult," says Marilyn Koerner. "She couldn't even walk to the mailbox."

Her doctors say 98 percent of the 126 trachea transplants performed in Europe have long-term success. And Koerner -- who has even started running for health -- is well on the road to a total recovery

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