3D printing helps baby breathe

I just love it when human ingenuity and technology create amazing medical breakthroughs.

Poor Garrett Peterson was born with a defective windpipe. A condition, known as tracheomalacia, means that his trachea is so weak that it can collapse at any time and cut off his ability to breathe. Something as innocuous as changing a diaper or a small tantrum, could cause him to stop breathing.

The family reached out to a specialist Dr. Glenn Green at the University of Michigan, who teamed up with Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer. Together they created a 3D printed device capable of holding open Garrett’s airway until it’s strong enough to work on its own.

Taking exact scans they used the 3D printer to create an external splint for the windpipe, that would be attached surgically, but would eventually be resorbed by the body and be replaced by Garrets own tissues.

As with all experimental surgery it was high risk. Special approvals were required and it was a scary choice for the parents. However, given that Garrett had not been able to leave the hospital for the first 16 months of his life and the fearful episodes could happen any day, the parents chose to take the risk.

At the time of the original article Garrett was still in hospital, but was doing far better and starting to respond more like a normal 16 month old. Fingers crossed he continues to improve at the same rate!

The options for 3D printing are endless, especially now that scientists have even used human tissue to print skin and blood vessels. Imagine getting a hip or knee replacement using your own culture grown bone. Personalized spare parts!

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