December 15, 2015

A brighter Christmas for Hannah, first teen to be saved by 3D printed airway splint

14-year-old girl with autism who last Christmas was tethered to hospital bed celebrates happier holiday season with family

Hannah Coulter (left) and older sister Hayley.

Last Christmas Eve, after more than 20 days spent at daughter Hannah’s bedside, Marsha and Tommy Coulter were called into a Texas hospital conference room faced with an unimaginable decision.

“The doctor asked us to consider taking Hannah off the vent and letting her go,” Marsha Coulter remembers. “It was one of the worst days of our lives. The worst Christmas Eve we could imagine. We cried all day and night. I begged God to keep this from happening. We were just hoping for a miracle.”

For 14-year-old Hannah, every breath was a battle. A lethal combination of a small chest cavity, an artery pushing up against her trachea and a rare, life-threatening disease that weakens the windpipe called tracheobronchomalacia had made breathing and eating increasingly difficult for the teen, who also has autism. Other surgeries hadn’t helped and few options were left.

But on Christmas morning, the couple woke up with new hope. Texas doctors had researched one other option at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor where a 3-D printed airway splint procedure had helped babies with Hannah’s condition. Two months later, Hannah became the first teenager to receive the custom airway splint. She is now back to school and preparing to celebrate a much brighter holiday season with her family.

“This year we are looking forward to the best Christmas season we’ve ever had because Hannah is still with us,” Marsha says. “It will just be so much more meaningful. We are grateful for this past year. It has been the hardest year of our lives, for sure, but also, we have felt the most loved, taken care of and supported.”

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