April and Bryan Gionfriddo's now 20-month-old son Kaiba suffered from a a severe version of tracheobronchomalacia, causing his bronchus to collapse and his breathing to stop.
“Quite a few of the doctors said that he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” said the boy's mother.
Doctors at the C.S. Mot Children’s Hospital were granted emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to surgically sew the 3D-printed splint on the child’s windpipe. After imaging the boy’s damaged airway, doctors 3D printed 100 tiny tubes and laser-stitched them together over the boy's trachea.
“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,” said Michigan University Professor Dr. Glenn Green, who came up with the idea with his partner Dr. Scott Hollister.
The tracheal splint was made from a biopolymer called polycaprolactone. It will take about three years for the material to be reabsorbed by the body, which is just long enough for the trachea to grow into a healthy state with the splint acting as a skeleton.
Kaiba was off ventilator support 21 days after the procedure, and has not had breathing trouble since then. Before the device was placed, Kaiba stopped breathing regularly and required resuscitation daily. He was six weeks old when he turned blue for the first time.
“Even with the best treatments available, he continued to have these episodes. He was imminently going to die," Green said. Hollister said that Kaiba's case is "definitely the highlight" of his career. The case is featured in the latest New England Journal of Medicine.