Technology May 23, 2013
This 3D Printed Medical Device Saved A Baby's Life

A baby's life was saved with this 3-D printed device that restored his breathing (Photo: University of Michigan Health System)

This is a story about a little boy from Ohio named Kaiba Gionfridoo.

As a newborn, Kaiba had a collapsed bronchus which made it so difficult for him to breathe, he'd stop and he had to be resuscitated each day.

"Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive," Kaiba's mother April told Science Daily. "At that point, we were desperate. Anything that would work, we would take it and run with it."

Kaiba's doctors got in touch with two medical researchers at the University of Michigan - Glenn Green, M.D. and Scott Hollister, Ph.D. - who had created a 3D-printed tracheal splint made of a spongy material that would eventually dissolve in the body.

Green and Hollister had to get special permission from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to use the splint, and then design a custom one for Kaiba based a CT scan of his trachea/bronchus.

In February of last year, they put in the splint - sewing it around Kaiba's airway to expand his bronchus and allow air to go in normally.

"It was amazing," Green told Science Daily. "As soon as the splint was put in, the lungs started going up and down for the first time and we knew he was going to be OK."

Three weeks after the procedure, doctors took Kaiba off breathing support, and now, 20 months later, he's doing great.

"He has not had another episode of turning blue," said his mom April. "We are so thankful that something could be done for him. It means the world to us."

As for the splint, it will be reabsorbed by his body over the next three years. And incredibly, as that happens, his own bronchus will fully develop.

"The material we used is a nice choice for this. It takes about two to three years for the trachea to remodel and grow into a healthy state, and that's about how long this material will take to dissolve into the body," says Hollister.

"Kaiba's case is definitely the highlight of my career so far. To actually build something that a surgeon can use to save a person's life? It's a tremendous feeling."

The condition Kaiba had is rare, but dangerous.

As Science Daily writes, "a normal cold can cause a baby to stop breathing. In Kaiba's case, the family was out at a restaurant when he was six weeks old and he turned blue."

"Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has bothered me for years," said Green. "I've seen children die from it. To see this device work, it's a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children."

Kaiba's case is featured in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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