Page last updated at 01:28 GMT, Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'I was scared, but it went well'

Claudia Castillo is the first person in the world to receive a windpipe created in the laboratory. Matthew Hill, BBC health correspondent, was one of the first journalists to talk to her.

Claudia Castillo talks to Matthew Hill
Claudio tells Matthew about her operation

Before meeting Claudia, all I knew was that she was a mother of two from South America who had been extremely sick because of damage to her left trachea caused by tuberculosis.

I was expecting to meet a fairly world-worn woman in her fifties.

So to see a very young looking and glamorous 30-year-old surrounded by the Spanish snappers as she walked into the media conference was more like some pre-arranged celebrity/model opportunity.

Claudia met me after the conference with her surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and agreed to be interviewed on a local park bench.

She told me, through a translator, about her 15-year-old son and four-and-a-half-year-old daughter back in Colombia, and how they were looking forward to seeing her.

"My son did experience the process of me being sick, being in hospital," she said.

"But he is happy now that everything went well.

"He expected to see me completely better.

"My little girl was more isolated from it as she didn't come to the hospital but, even so, she is happy and just wants to see her mother better."

Seriously ill

I asked just how ill she had been.

Claudia Castillo
I was a sick woman, now I will be able to live a normal life
Claudia Castillo

Claudia told me: "It limited how long I could walk, as I could not breathe properly.

"I could not walk or play with my children.

"When I could not breathe I could not have a long conversation.

"I had to stop all the time to breathe.

"I had to tell them 'now, please don't talk' because I needed to breathe, and that was very difficult for me to keep up the relationship.

"And now after the operation it is much easier."

Asked how she felt at the time she was first approached by Dr Macchiarini and she said: "I was scared. I had the illness for four years and in January they told me they had to operate.

"He told me that it was a trial that had never been carried out before and that this would be the first in the world.

"But everything went well."

Claudia was keen to pass on her thanks, not just to her surgeon, but to the whole pan-European medical team that made her case such a success.

"I was a sick woman, now I will be able to live a normal life.

"I am very happy they could do this to me, they had been studying for so long and it worked out well.

"I am very, very hopeful. I have been the first one but I encourage them to do more in the future."

New patient

I asked Dr Macchiarini if he was planning any more operations.

He said there was a German patient in the hospital who he was hoping to give a transplant to.

"Would it be possible to see her?' I asked.

In his ever-helpful way the surgeon said he would enquire.

Shortly after this I disinfected my hands before entering the hospital room where the patient, Rosa De Magria, was lying on her side, and clearly very sick.

The 44-year-old from Dortmund told me she had cancer of the trachea and that she was waiting for a donor organ to be identified.

"I have been very ill since February and need to have oxygen all the time," she said.

Asked about the prospect of being the second patient in the world to have such a transplant, she said: "I hope everything goes well. I have hope."

I felt it best to leave then as she was clearly very ill and struggling to speak.

I only hope that she can be helped. Her story was a reminder of just how huge the potential demand for this type of transplantation will be.

It raises the question of how society will be able to afford to introduce this as routine.

That said, the stem cell technique avoids the significant costs of keeping patients on anti-rejection medication.

This could be one of the most significant medical developments so far this century.



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