LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – When Rio Farr was born in May 2018, his parents could see his crying face – but they didn’t hear the newborn’s cries.

The baby was in distress and unable to breathe, so doctors performed an emergency tracheotomy. Rio’s parents recall what the doctors told them.

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“Essentially told us that he most likely was not going to leave the hospital and we were going to have to turn off the ventilator so that’s where things were the day after he was born,” said dad Patrick Farr.

Rio was later transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Dr. Christian Hochstim discovered Rio had a condition called congenital laryngeal web. His vocal cords were 90% fused together and there was just a tiny hole he could breathe through.

Dr. Christian Hochstim shows an image of Rio’s vocal chords that were fused in the membrane. (credit: CBS)

Dr. Hochstim says Rio’s case was severe and needed surgery so he would be able to speak and breathe without a tube.

“We actually separated the vocal chords that were fused in the membrane,” Dr. Christian Hochstim said. “We found the area under the vocal chords under was also very narrow for him to breathe through, so we had to rebuild that area using a piece of Rio’s own cartilage.”

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Rio was born with a condition called congenital laryngeal web. (credit: CBS)

During the six-hour surgery, Dr. Hochstim reconstructed Rio’s airway and created enough space for him to breathe through. Three months later, Patrick and Holly Farr heard their baby’s voice for the first time.

“He realized he was doing that, I think that was really exciting,” mom Holly Farr said. “Yeah, it was a really special day.”

The Farrs first heard their son’s voice when he was nine months old. Not long after that, another milestone: the trache that allowed Rio to breathe his entire life was removed. His first words followed: “Dada.”

Rio just passed the one-year anniversary of his surgery. The 18-month-old is now making huge strides, and his parents are thankful for each breath their son takes and to those who made that possible.

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“Doctors like Dr. Hochstim are the true heroes of the world,” said Holly.