South Jersey girl inspires Grey's Anatomy plot

Hunting Park

Two years ago, Brianna Ranzino developed a cough that didn't go away.

And it got worse, making it difficult to breathe.

Finally, doctors at St. Christopher's Hospital spotted the problem. They discovered she had a benign tumor at the base of her trachea.

Dr. Matt Moront says, "The tumor would have eventually eroded her trachea, or occluded her airway, and impeded her ability to breathe."

Surgeon Dr. Matt Moront searched the country for the right team of doctors to help Brianna.

Through a mutual contact, he learned about Doctors David Sugarbaker and Chuck Vicanti at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

They agreed to take on the challenge, not just to get the tumor out, but to ensure Brianna had a trachea to breathe through.

Dr. Moront says, "They actually harvested cells from Brianna's bone marrow, and grew 3 of these tissue-engineered tracheas, one inside her, one on the back of a mouse, and one in the lab."

But as it turned out, surgeons were able to piece Brianna's own windpipe together without this... Still they proved the technique could be done on other patients.

When writers for Grey's anatomy heard of the case, they decided to make it part of their plot.

Brianna and her mother Lisa was stunned when she heard the news.

"I didn't have any words. I was just so excited, I didn't know what to say," recalls mom.

Brianna adds, "I think it's really cool. I wanted to be in it."

She also hopes to meet the cast of the show. Lisa Ranzino says she's long been a fan of the show, though she missed episodes during Brianna's medical trouble.

During that time, social worker Robin Capecci was a vital help to the Ranzinos, making sure Brianna's schooling continued, arranging Angel Flights to & from Boston for treatment, and sorting out the finances of the high-tech specialty care.

She is excited to see Brianna's health returning.

"We always believed in our hearts, she'd get better," she says.

Dr. Moront says it's rewarding to see the success of this monumental medical effort.

"She's back at school, and she's going to dances, and doing all the things teenaged girls should do and think about, not worry whether she's going to live to her next birthday," he says.

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