KAYLEIGH Fitzpatrick is today able to breathe unaided for the first time.
Surgeons from Great Ormond Street Hospital carried out a six-hour operation, using cartilage from her ribcage to rebuild her windpipe, which they hope will transform the “little superstar’s” life.
When she was born 14 weeks prematurely, Kayleigh, now three, was fitted with a breathing tube during a tracheotomy, in a bid to give her a chance of survival.
Now doctors in London have removed the tube, allowing the tot to breathe without help.
If the operation had failed, Kayleigh faced a future unable to breathe alone.
Doctors decided to carry out the reconstructive surgery and follow-up treatment in one, rather than in three or four stages, because the Washington family lived so far away.
Now, after her two-week stay, Kayleigh has returned home to Concord where she is recovering with mum Diane Grieves, 33, and dad Peter, 32, an electrical fitter at Armah Switchgear in Washington.
The medics responsible for her monitoring her progress, which include a team at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, are hopeful this will be the start of a new life for the youngster.
Kayleigh was born by emergency Caesarean section at Sunderland Royal when her mum suffered pre-eclampsia, a condition which affects the placenta.
She weighed just 1lb 7oz and spent her first six months in hospital, undergoing a number of operations including heart surgery and laser eye treatment.
Relieved to have her daughter home, Diane said: “She’s just a little superstar.
“She’s stunned all the doctors and she’s made an amazing recovery. She’s up walking, talking and eating.”
She is already proving a fighter and it is hoped she will be able to return to St Bede’s nursery in Washington as soon as possible.
Her teacher Emma McNaught and headteacher Dominc Curran kept in daily contact with Diane so they could update Kayleigh’s classmates, who were all concerned about her condition.
She and her mum will return to London in the next week for her first check up.
Diane added: “She was fully sedated for the first 24 hours and it felt like a long time.
“We were scared, but she came through it. All the doctors have been amazed with her and how much she’s come on.”