Fairfield, Iowa

A few days after bringing home their baby boy, Cian, Jodi and Justin Bonnett noticed that his lips were often a bluish color. They mentioned it to their doctor during Cian’s one-week checkup.

“They kept him overnight for observation and saw that his oxygen levels kept dropping,” Jodi says. “That had us scared.”

The Bonnetts were immediately referred to pediatric otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) specialists at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. At 8 days old, he underwent surgery to remove tissue that seemed to be blocking his airway. Breathing problems persisted over the months that followed, however.

“It seemed like every time Cian got a cold, we ended up in the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) so he could get enough oxygen,” Jodi says. “His airway was too small.”

Cian was diagnosed with subglottic stenosis, which refers to a narrowing of the airway below the vocal cords caused by cartilage that hadn’t formed properly during prenatal development.

One day after his first birthday, Cian returned to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for surgery, this time to reconstruct his airway via a rib graft procedure. Surgeons took a small piece of one of Cian’s ribs and grafted it in his trachea (windpipe) to create a larger, more permanent opening. It’s a unique and delicate operation, one in which the UI surgeons had experience and success.

“The surgery and recovery went great,” Jodi says. “Cian was a superstar, along with the medical team. Three weeks post-surgery, we were heading home.”

One month later, however, complications arose. Cian began having periodic, often serious, breathing problems. Soon the Bonnetts were back in the PICU. As his UI medical team was making arrangements to “go back in,” Cian’s heart stopped momentarily.

“Within seconds, the room was filled with doctors, nurses—everybody came to help,” Jodi recalls. “Dr. Smith (Richard Smith, MD, pediatric otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon) and one of the other doctors literally ran up five flights of stairs to get there.”

“The rib graft had come loose,” Justin explains. “When Cian took a breath, it would lodge in his throat, shutting off his airway. As soon as it would dislodge, he’d breathe normally again.”

Thankfully, Cian was at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Surgeons immediately corrected the graft. His second recovery also went well, and after a few weeks Cian was back home—this time for good.

“We owe our son’s life to them,” Jodi says of Cian’s care team. “If not for the medical staff, we wouldn’t have a little boy to hug and kiss goodnight.”

Cian lives with hearing loss, developmental disabilities, and other health issues, but he approaches each day with boundless energy and a bright outlook. He loves being outdoors, and has a mischievous sense of humor.

“He likes to chase his mom around with plastic pet snakes,” Justin says with a laugh.

“He’s definitely his father’s son,” Jodi adds.

Related Medical Services