Breathing Easier Thanks to Lurie Children’s Aerodigestive Program

August 21, 2018

She was born with her vocal cords fused together. Little Madison also had subglottic stenosis, or a narrowing of the area of the windpipe just below the vocal folds. Now 1 year old, she has been under the care of Lurie Children’s Division of Otolaryngology (ENT) since birth.

Because of her fused vocal cords it was nearly impossible for her to utter a sound. When she tried to cry or laugh only a faint whistle emerged.


Webbed vocal cords, such as these, need to be divided and separated to allow for clearer voice and easier breathing

It was clear she would need to have surgery to widen her trachea, but the team agreed to wait.

“The plan was to wait for airway surgery to allow Madison to grow and to get stronger,” said Becca and Mike, her parents.

Feeling stronger now, Madison was ready.

The 8-hour surgery, a laryngeotracheal reconstruction, successfully enlarged her narrow airway.

“We made an incision in her airway, and took part of her rib cartilage and sewed it onto her airway to enlarge it,” said Jonathan Ida, MD, FACS, Medical Director of Lurie Children's Aerodigestive Program and the lead surgeon.  “We were also able to cut open her fused vocal chords, freeing them.”

“Dr. Ida, Dr. Jeff Rastatter, an otorhinolaryngology-head and neck surgeon, and the entire aerodigestive ENT team were in the operating room with Madison that day,” said Mike. “They said her fused vocal cord web was the thickest they had ever seen.”

The Aerodigestive surgeons at Lurie Children’s perform the most airway reconstructions, open and endoscopic, in the state of Illinois, and among the most of any pediatric institution in the United States. In addition to Dr. Ida and Jeff Rastatter, MD, Attending Physician in the Division of Otolaryngology (ENT), other members of the Aerodigestive surgical team include Dana M. Thompson, MD, MS, FACS, Head of the Division of Otolaryngology; Jennifer Lavin, MD, Director of Tracheostomy Program; James W. Schroeder, MD, FACS, Director of Pediatric Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) Program; and Taher Valika, MD.

The Aerodigestive Program also includes a multidisciplinary team of experts to serve children like Madison who have complex airway, pulmonary, upper digestive, sleep and swallowing disorders. Alex Green, DO, Attending Physician in the Division Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, leads the gastroenterology portion of the program, and Sarah Zack, MD, leads pulmonary. Sarah Neault, APN, is the Aerodigestive Program Nurse Practitioner, and Ashley Green, Aerodigestive Program Coordinator, ensures each patient’s visits are well organized.

Just the Beginning

Sixteen days after the operation Maddie said her first word… "dada"… and the conversation has not stopped since.

Just three weeks after surgery, Madison’s airway was 100% healed and she was discharged. She celebrated her first birthday at home shortly after that, with an appropriate Wonder Woman themed-party.

Today, post-surgery, Madison is back to her smiley self, full of personality and meeting developmental milestones thanks to the help of Lurie Children’s Physical and Occupational Therapy teams.

“Now Madison has her big girl airway, and we can rest a little easier knowing she is no longer at such high risk,” say Becca and Mike. “Dr. Ida and the ENT team did such an amazing job on her surgery, her recovery and everything in between. We can’t thank them enough for everything they have done for our real life Wonder Woman. My husband and I are blown away by the absolute world-class, amazing care that we’ve experienced here.”

Footnote: The Aerodigestive Program manages conditions such as Subglottic stenosis, tracheal stenosis, dysphagia, trachea-bronchomalacia, chronic lung disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder, among others. As regional leaders in pediatric healthcare, we aim to serve local, national and international populations with an emphasis on personalized care.