New Surgical Technique Allows Ten Year-Old to Utter His First Words in Six Years

Zep Washington and Pediatric Otolaryngologist Dr. Anil Gungor celebrate at Zep's “No Trach” party February 8.

I love you.” Those were 10-year-old Zep Washington’s first spoken words in six years, giving his grandmother, Sharon Washington, two reasons to cry with joy after a medical team at LSU Health Shreveport were able to successfully reconstruct his damaged airway and remove the tracheotomy tube that has kept him alive, but unable to talk. Pediatric Otolaryngologist Dr. Anil Gungor used a new surgical technique to repair the scarring caused by injuries the boy suffered in a house fire in 2005.

The Child Life Department planned a “No Trach” party for Zep the day following his surgery so Dr. Gungor, the nurses and staff could celebrate with him. He ate cake, opened gifts and hugged his grandmother.

Zep was severely burned by the fire. His parents were unable to escape the blaze.

Previous airway reconstructive surgeries had failed, but Dr. Gungor was encouraged by Zep’s young age and general good health. The LSU Health Shreveport team had planned for a longer surgery but were pleasantly surprised to be able to use a less-involved procedure than they previously anticipated, by clearing some of the blockage and using parts of skin grafts from the previous surgeries. This is thought to be a technique not previously used. Dr. Gungor plans to present the case and a paper describing the new technique to fellow physicians at the 2012 American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery annual meeting, but he has already received the best recognition of all.

“Hearing Zep talk, seeing his face light up, that is worth all the years of medical training,” said Dr. Gungor.

Zep is expected to be released from the LSU Medical Center tomorrow to a life of eating pizza, singing, drawing and going to school–to a life of just being a kid.