Ethan breathes using his rib in a surgery first

Courtney, 13, Ethan, six, mum Sonia, and Jessica, five.
Courtney, 13, Ethan, six, mum Sonia, and Jessica, five.

A six-year-old boy who was born with a condition affecting his voice box can breath easily after an operation using part of his rib.

Ethan Wiseman, a pupil at New York Primary School in North Shields, was born with a condition called subglottic stenosis, which means that his voice box had not fully opened, affecting his breathing, as well as a slight cleft of the nose.

The cleft was successfully operated on at the Great North Children’s Hospital by the region’s leading cleft lip and palate surgeon Peter Hodgkinson when Ethan was just a baby.

But as he approached his sixth birthday, the opening of his windpipe had not developed normally and meant he became breathless quickly.

His windpipe did not grow adequately, so he needed corrective surgery called laryngotracheal reconstruction, which involves placing small, precise pieces of cartilage taken from the ribs into the windpipe to widen the airway.

Previously, patients like Ethan would need two operations – firstly a tracheostomy would be performed, cutting into the windpipe to allow a breathing tube to be inserted.

Next a special tube called a stent would be put into place to hold the reconstructed airway open, and then, several weeks later after the reconstruction site had healed, another operation would be required to remove the stent.

The tracheostomy is then removed a few months later.

The operation Ethan had is called a single-stage reconstruction – the first of its kind to be carried out in the north east.

Surgeon Steve Powell said: “The operation involves the reconstruction surgery itself followed by placing a breathing tube through the nose, into the windpipe, to hold the airway and new cartilage in place.

“It acts as a stent and a breathing tube which allows the throat to heal over a few days and avoids the need for a tracheostomy.”

Ethan’s mum Sonia said: “When Ethan was younger I was so worried about his breathing, especially whenever he got a cold, and when he went out to play he could never stay out as long as his friends.

“Since his operation he’s become a totally different boy.

“He talks non-stop and is so outgoing – it’s lovely to see him able to play for as long as he likes.

“The teachers at his school can’t believe the change in him. He’s become so much more confident.

“The doctors at the Great North Children’s Hospital were fantastic – especially the surgeons and everyone in the intensive care unit.

“We can’t thank them enough.”