U-M Surgeons Use 3-D Printed Device to Help Baby Breathe


New 3-D printing technology was used to help save a baby’s life at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where surgeons used special splints made from computer-aided design to improve the child’s breathing.

The procedure was performed in January on Garrett Peterson, an 18-month-old who suffered from severe tracheobronchomalacia, which reduces the air passage to small slits. Since birth, Garrett  has been confined to the hospital connected to ventilators.

“It was highly questionable whether or not he would survive,” said Dr. Glenn Green, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at U-M. “It’s horrible not knowing when your child is going to die. It’s horrible not knowing when one of these (difficult breathing) episodes is going to be the one he doesn’t make it through.”

The surgeons implanted the 3-D printed tracheal splint, created and implanted to open up Garrett’s airways, and allow him to breath without ventilators. The child has since returned to his home to Utah. Dr. Green says Garrett’s body will reabsorb the splints, sewn around his bronchi to expand the airways while giving support to aid proper growth, in about three years.

The 3-D printing device was developed using high-resolution imaging and computer-aided design at the U-M by Dr. Green and Scott Hollister, a professor of biomedical engineering at U-M. The device was created directly from a CT scan of Garrett’s trachea/bronchus, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3-D printing to produce the splint.

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

The procedure was first performed in 2012 on another child who also suffered from severe tracheobronchomalacia.