3D printed bioresorbable splints save baby’s life

18-month-old Garrett Peterson has never left the hospital – spending his days tethered to ventilators tasked with preventing his breathing from stopping. 

Garrett suffers from a condition called tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve, which can put tremendous pressure on the airways. In Garrett’s case, he developed severe tracheobronchomalacia, or softening of his trachea and bronchi, with the collapsed airways reduced to just small slits.

“It’s really hard to watch your child basically suffocate and pass out before you could revive him and bring him back, over and over,” Jake Peterson, Garrett’s father, told the University of Michigan Health System.

His condition was so tenuous that his parents couldn’t even hold him for fear of compromising the baby’s breathing. However, Jake and Natalie Peterson are now planning to take their son home – after surgeons at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital successfully implanted 3D printed devices to open up Garrett’s airways.

Before the procedure, Garrett needed to attached to a ventilator at pressure levels that had reached the maximum. He was frequently on strong medication and had even been placed into a medically-induced coma. 

Garrett is just the second individual whose life was saved with a new, bioresorbable device developed at the University of Michigan by Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology and Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M.

Essentially, Dr. Hollister created a 3D model of Garrett’s airway and specially designed splints for a custom fit on the baby’s bronchi. Doctors were then able to make the custom-designed, custom-fabricated device using high-resolution imaging and computer-aided design. The device was created directly from a CT scan of Garrett’s trachea and bronchi, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3D printing to produce the splint. 

The splints were subsequently sewn around Garrett’s right and left bronchi to expand the airways and give it external support to aid proper growth. Over about three years, the splint will be reabsorbed by the body.

“It is a tremendous feeling to know that this device has saved another child,” added Dr. Hollister. “We believe there are many other applications for these techniques, but to see the impact living and breathing in front of you is overwhelming.”

6 thoughts on “3D printed bioresorbable splints save baby’s life

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