Doctors Use 3D-Printed, Bioresorbable Tracheal Splint to Save Baby’s Life

Little Kaiba Gionfriddo was born with a condition where his bronchus would collapse and cut off airflow to his lungs. He would stop breathing from time to time, and eventually he was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with tracheobronchomalacia. His parents were told that he had a low chance of survival.

Baby Kaiba’s doctors reached out to doctors Glenn Greene and Scott Hollister at the University of Michigan, who were developing a 3D printed bioresorbable device that could save Kaiba’s life (and anyone else born with that particular affliction). The tiny tracheal splint essentially widens the bronchus and also provides support and stability so it doesn’t collapse.

Kaiba model
3D-printed model of Kaiba's bronchus and the splint

Further, the device is made from materials that absorb into the body over the course of a 2-3 years; the body will use it to strengthen and grow itself and then dissolve it completely. The doctors used a CT scan of Kaiba’s throat to develop a computer model from which they designed the custom splint. Then, they printed it with a laser-based 3D printer.

So was the surgery a success? “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 okay,” said Dr. Greene. Kaiba was off of his ventilator 21 days after surgery and has had no trouble breathing since then.

UofM doctors
University of Michigan's Drs. Scott Hollister (L) and Glenn Greene (R)

What’s most incredible about this story is that according to Dr. Hollister, this was the only treatment option for baby Kaiba, and they had to perform the operation on an emergency basis. In fact, the doctors had to get emergency clearance from the FDA to make and implant the device at all.

Kaiba healthy
A healthy baby Kaiba and his mom

One gets the impression that for as awesome as this 3D printing innovation is today, it won’t be too long before printing out and implementing temporary body parts could be as routine as most other outpatient surgeries.

Little Kaiba had a rough start to his life, but he’s already proven that he can beat the medical odds, he can cut through bureaucratic red tape with the best of them, and he’s also an early adopter of new technology. Not a bad resume for a 20-month-old.