Science

3D Printer-Made Airway Tube Saves Baby's Life

By Hilda Scott , May 22, 2013 09:19 PM EDT
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Doctors at the University of Michigan successfully used a 3D printed device to save the life of a baby. The life-threatening condition, tracheobronchomalacia (TBM), which is a central airway obstruction, was stopped thanks to their heroic efforts.

The parents of the baby, April and Bryan Gionfriddo are grateful to the team at the University of Michigan. A new bioresorbable device under development there ultimately saved their son's life.

"Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive. At that point, we were desperate. Anything that would work, we would take it and run with it," April Gionfriddo said, mother of now 20-month old boy, Kaiba.

Doctors got emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which allowed them to create a tracheal splint for Kaiba. The splint made from the biolpolymer, polycaprolactone, was created using 3D printing technology.

Both from the University of Michigan, Dr. Glenn Green, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology and Dr. Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery, made the custom splint.

"It was amazing. 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," Green said.

The doctors created the customized splint using high resolution imaging and computer graphics, a CT scan of Kaiba's trachea/bronchus and laser-based 3D printing.

"Even with the best treatments available, he continued to have these episodes. He was imminently going to die. The physician treating him in Ohio knew there was no other option, other than our device in development here," Green said.

3D printing technology was also helpful for Phildelphia mother Megan Lavelle and her daughter Emma who was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). The rare disorder caused Emma to have underdeveloped muscles and stiff joints.

"She could only move her thumb," Lavelle said.

At an AMC conference, Lavelle was introduced to a device that would give her daughter the ability to play, feed herself and give hugs.

The device made with the help of 3D printing technology is called the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX). So far fifteen children now use the custom 3D-printed device which changed their lives immensely, giving them a sense of normalcy.

In the case of baby Kaiba, 3D printing gave him a chance at life. If the technology didn't exist, there is a good chance that he would not have left the hospital alive. 

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