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3D Printed Airway Saves Toddler’s Life

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Lisa Winter

Guest Author

456 3D Printed Airway Saves Toddler’s Life
UM Health System

Tracheobronchomalacia (TBM) occurs when the cartilage in the trachea and bronchi have been weakened, resulting in tremendous difficulty breathing. In the case of 18-month-old Garrett Peterson, his TBM came about after he was born without a pulmonary valve. His case was so severe that his airway collapsed and all but completely blocked any air from going though. 

In the spring of 2013, Garrett’s parents read about Kaiba Gionfriddo, a baby who also suffered from TBM and needed to be resuscitated with CPR every day. He was given a bioresorbable airway made from a 3D printer that had been under the development of Glenn Green and Scott Hollister, from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. The Petersons reached out to to the surgeons, as they were curious if the device that helped Kaiba could also be used on Garrett.


Prior to the surgery, Garrett’s parents had never been allowed to hold him. He had spent his entire life in a hospital bed, connected to a ventilator. Small movements, even those associated with changing a soiled diaper, cut off his air supply. Multiple times per day, the helpless parents watched on as their son turned blue and needed to be resuscitated. Even with the ventilator’s pressure cranked as high as it could go, Garrett’s condition did not improve. In fact, the pressure began to shut down his gut. Though the Petersons had spent several months debating about if they should do the surgery and try the 3D printed implant, they were now forced to make a decision. 

The splint is made with a biopolymer known as polycapolactone. Doctors took CT scans of Garrett’s trachea and bronchi, so that the implants could be exact matches for his body. Because Garrett is only the second person to receive this treatment, they required emergency clearance from the FDA. The video below shows the process of how the implant is designed and manufactured:

Garrett’s surgery was performed on January 31, 2014 at Mott in Ann Arbor. Each splint was sewn into his bronchi to hold open the his airway. It will take about three years for the splints to be absorbed by Garrett’s body and is expected to hold the airway open throughout his life. Since the operation, he has been able to go short periods without any need from the ventilator. While he is receiving help from the ventilator, it is running at less than a quarter of the pressure as it was before. His gut function has also returned to normal. 

Kaiba, the first baby to receive a 3D printed splint, has just celebrated his second birthday. Garrett’s prognosis looks equally promising and his parents are looking forward to a milestone in a couple months that they have been waiting for throughout his entire life: taking him home.


View more about Garrett’s journey here: 


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