During the Second International Adult Stem Cell conference at the Vatican, a boy who had his windpipe replaced with one grown using his own stem cells won the “Pontifical Hero Award” for his courage.
Ciaran Finn-Lynch, 14, was the second person to receive the award, and he made the trip from Northern Ireland to the Vatican to receive it.
“Ciaran is a shining example of what this result has shown,” said his father, Paul Finn, in an April 12 interview with CNA.
His mother, Colleen Finn, said “we need to have faith in God to get through all of this.”
“This has made our faith stronger because we need more and more prayers all the time,” she added.
Ciaran was born with long-segment tracheal stenosis, a condition that resulted in a narrow windpipe and made it hard for him to breathe.
He had a major transplant surgery to rebuild his trachea when he was two years-old.
Doctors placed metal stents to hold his windpipe open and he went without any major issues until he was 10 years-old.
One day after school, the stents that had been placed in his windpipe started to cut into his aorta, the main blood vessel coming out of his heart.
He was taken to intensive care at Belfast Hospital and then later transferred to London’s Great Ormond Children’s Hospital.
“He had several operations but he had more bleeding from his stents,” said Doctor Paolo De Coppi, head of the surgery unit at University College London’s Institute of Child Health, during the April 12 morning session of the conference.
“The leader of our team didn’t know what to do next, but an option was to do an operation done before on an adult in Barcelona. But we didn’t have the time to do that,” De Coppi explained.
“But we did something similar and it was a quite difficult operation,” he said.
The operation involved taking a donor trachea and seeding it with stem cells taken from Ciaran’s bone marrow.
The result of the procedure was that after six months, his trachea looked almost normal.
“Ciaran is doing really well and I think he has a chance to become a rock star, since he plays the drums so well,” De Coppi commented after showing a video of Ciaran playing with a band.
Ciaran told CNA that it felt good to receive the award and that he was happy with his life.
His father noted that the stem cells “have been a great contribution to Ciaran’s procedure.”
“What we’ve heard here these last couple of days (at the conference) has been amazing, knowing they’re talking about building other organs,” Paul Finn said.
Ciaran’s mother noted that she was happy that her son is not on any medication, since the operation used his own cells, preventing the need for anti-rejection drugs.
“You just have to keep going on for him, and you can’t show that you’re scared or teary and you just have to put a brave face on,” said Colleen.