By Kate Raddatz

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A little girl without a voice that captured the hearts of our WCCO viewers is now speaking for the first time.

“It’s awesome seeing how many people have gotten attached to her and how many people she’s touched,” Jeremy Ellis, from Coon Rapids, said.

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Ellis’ daughter, Zoey, was born with Congenital High Airway Obstruction Syndrome. Doctors didn’t think Zoey, now 3, would even survive birth. She had a blocked airway, and used a tracheostomy tube to help her breathe. Her larynx, or voice box, was fused shut and had no access to her trachea through her mouth or her nose.

Her parents showed WCCO last summer how they had to suction her throat up to hundreds of times a day.

“When she’s sick you couldn’t even walk away to go to the bathroom,” Amberlee Ellis, Zoey’s mother, said. “It was constant.”

Zoey’s family had a big wish this holiday: to have their daughter breathe on her own.

“I never thought we’d hear her talk,” Jeremy said. “That’s the assumption we were given she’d never talk or get her trache out at minimum.”

Zoey had surgery with a top team at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati in November. They replaced her trache with a small capped one, only there as a precaution if she needs to open it to breathe.

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It worked. While in Cincinnati, her parents heard her speak her first word: “Dada.”

“We were both crying,” Amberlee said.

She can also make noises to laugh and cry now.

Zoey still has a lot of work to do with speech therapy — she still uses sign language to communicate. But she’ll get to go to school in January rather than being home schooled.

In a year where so much has changed, Zoey’s spirit hasn’t.

“It’s like a Christmas miracle,” Jeremy said.

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Zoey’s family will have to go back to Cincinnati so doctors can assess if it’s safe to remove the capped trache completely. If you’d like to donate to help the family with Zoey’s medical expenses, click here.

Kate Raddatz