How 3D Printing Saved a Little Boy's Life

Date: May 23, 2013

It seems like just yesterday the first test tube baby was being born; the rapid advancement in medical research led to the discovery of numerous cures for congenital disorders. Recently with the aid of 3D printing, a cure was developed for tracheobronchomalacia, a rare condition which prevented children to breathe normally.


When Kaiba Gionfriddo was born, his parents never expected their child to have a fatal condition which caused his windpipe to collapse daily. Kaiba had been born with the main arteries to his heart and lungs replaced which squeezed his windpipe, causing his breathing to stop and occasionally his heart too. After analyzing Kaiba’s condition, a team of researchers suggested that a 3D printer could potentially be the solution for his disorder. The researchers at the University of Michigan have been researching artificial airway splints but had never implanted one into an actual patient; desperate to save their son, Kaiba’s parents took the risk and the process quickly started.

Soon after the parents’ consent, the team from University of Michigan set out to use high-resolution imaging to study Kaiba’s trachea and bronchus. Through utilizing the data from the CT scans, the team of researchers were able to create an accurate 3D visual model of a splint through using computer aided design software. Once it was designed, the 3D printer was printed using a biopolymer called polycaprolactone, the optimal material for Kaiba’s condition. Dr. Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineer behind the 3D printed implant comments:

“The material we used is a nice choice for this. It takes about two to three years for the trachea to remodel and grow into a healthy state, and that's about how long this material will take to dissolve into the body.”

Though the risks were high and Kaiba’s parents were constantly warned there was a good chance he would not leave the hospital alive, the operation turned out to be a success. After 21 days of the operation, Kaiba has not had breathing troubles since.


Glenn Green, associate professor of paediatric otolaryngology at Michigan, said: “Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has bothered me for years. I have seen children die from it. Even with the best treatments, Kaiba was imminently going to die. To see this device work is a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children.”

While it is not the first time 3D printing has had a positive effect in medicine, this event was an amazing feat as it offers huge hope for the 1 in 22,000 babies who suffer severe cases of tracheomalacia. The success of this operation will hopefully lead to the development of further objects aiding medical conditions, such as structures used in ear, nose and throat surgery.

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