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3D-printed splint helped save a baby's life

Ever since the day Garrett Peterson was born, his parents have had to watch him suddenly just stop breathing

Utah: Ever since the day Garrett Peterson was born, his parents have had to watch him suddenly just stop breathing.
“He could go from being totally fine to turning blue sometimes in 30 seconds,” says Garrett’s mother, Natalie Peterson, 25, of Layton, Utah. “It was so fast. It was really scary,” she added.


Breathing easily: Garrett is 18 months old now and is still in hospital, but since the surgery he has gotten stronger needs less help breathing

Garrett was born with a defective windpipe. His condition, known as as tracheomalacia, left his trachea so weak, making it collapse, cutting off his ability to breathe.

So the Petersons contacted Dr Glen Green at the University of Michigan, who specialises in conditions similar to Garrett’s. He teamed up with Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer who runs the university’s 3-D printing lab, to create a remarkable solution to Garrett’s problem — a device that will hold open Garrett’s windpipe until it’s strong enough to work on its own. And because Garrett was a lot sicker, doctors had a lot less time to carry out the procedure of fitting the tube-like device.

How the doctors used 3-D splint
First, they took a CT scan of Garrett’s windpipe so they could make a 3-D replica of it. Next they used the 3-D printer to design and build a ‘splint’ (It’s a small, white flexible tube tailored to fit around the weakest parts of Garrett’s windpipe). “It's like a protective shell that goes on the outside of the windpipe and it allows the windpipe to be tacked to the inside of that shell to open it up directly,” Green said. As soon as surgeon Dr Richard Ohye, opened up Garrett’s chest, he and Green could see that Garrett’s windpipe had collapsed. One of his lungs was completely white. “The only time I'd seen a white lung was in somebody that had died,” Green said. They quickly got to work, gingerly placing the first of two splints on one side of Garrett’s windpipe. It fit perfectly. So they got started on a second splint, which fit perfectly, too. After eight hours, both splints were securely in place. Then came the most important moment: What would happen when they let air flow through his windpipe? This time, Garrett’s windpipe stayed open, and his white lung turned pink.  

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