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The 3D-printed splint that helped save a baby’s life

The technology is still relatively new, but 3D printing is already changing lives and industries — NPR reports on the case of Garrett Peterson, a 16 month-old baby with a defective windpipe condition called tracheomalacia. Doctors have fitted a 3D-printed splint into Garrett’s windpipe to enable him to keep breathing properly until his body grows stronger.

“It’s like a protective shield that goes on the outside of the windpipe,” said Dr Glenn Green from the University of Michigan, one of the doctors who worked on the device. “It allows the windpipe to be tacked to the inside of that shell to open it up directly.” Dr Green and biomedical engineer Dr Scott Hollister had to get an emergency waiver from the Food and Drug Administration in order to fit the splint, as it hasn’t yet received official approval.

“His condition was critical,” explains Dr Green. “It was urgent and things needed to be done quickly. It was highly questionable whether he would survive and how long he would survive.”

Dr Green and Dr Hollister took a CT scan of Garrett’s windpipe in order to enable them to make a 3D replica of it; they then used the University’s 3D printing hardware to design a tailor-made splint to fit. Two splints were fitted to Garrett’s windpipe in an operation that lasted eight hours — by the time that surgery started, one of the baby’s lungs had turned white.

In the weeks since the operation, Garrett has been breathing more easily and growing in strength. “He has been doing so good,” says mom Natalie Peterson. “He’s been smiling, and it’s crazy to be able to see him get really upset and not change colors.” The windpipe will eventually dissolve naturally once Garrett’s windpipe gets strong enough to work naturally.

Dr Green is hoping to expand the use of this 3D printing technology, but transporting sick children is expensive and insurance companies remain unconvinced. Drs Green and Hollister recently answered a Reddit AMA in which they went into more depth about the procedure, and long-time Digital Trends readers might remember that this isn’t the first time the pair have used this kind of technology to help save lives.

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