While we certainly don’t like to hear of anyone being sick or challenged, to hear of little ones suffering just pierces the heart enough indeed to make you want to avoid the subject. So while some may still avoid any topics involving tots and sickness or procedures, I love hearing the success stories regarding how 3D printing is helping to improve the quality of and sometimes even save children’s lives. And literally, what a wonderful start all these children are having to encourage enthusiasm for STEM education—as they are walking examples of what today’s technology and medical professionals are able to do.
For three little babies being treated at University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and followed now for years by researchers, 3D printing has been the catalyst for turning their lives around, thanks to the invention of Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and his colleague Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M.
Three-month-old Kaiba, five-month-old Ian, and 16-month-old Garrett all came to the hospital suffering from tracheobronchomalacia. With no cure and a grim outlook, surely no one expected much—except for heartbreak all around. The condition causes the windpipe to periodically collapse, subsequently hindering normal breathing. All three babies had experienced terrible consequences from the tracheobronchomalacia, from near death to having to be on ventilators, as well as cardiac arrest.
Thanks to the 3D printed bioresorable splints, which have worked successfully, thanks to Dr. Green and Dr. Hollister, these children’s lives, were, undeniably, saved. While alleviating suffering—or avoiding death—was obviously key here, studies have shown that treatment of the disease early on can prevent the need for tracheostomies, prolonged time spent in the hospital, mechanical ventilation, cardiac and respiratory arrest, as well as other discomfort.
“These cases broke new ground for us because we were able to use 3D printing to design a device that successfully restored patients’ breathing through a procedure that had never been done before,” says senior author Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Doctors were able to receive emergency permission from the FDA to insert the 3D printed tracheal splints, created directly from CT scans, which allowed for perfectly customized devices—even more crucial for babies. Sewn in around their tracheas, the splints will be absorbed into the bodies after some time has elapsed, allowing for expansion of the trachea and bronchus, as well as giving the opportunity for a proper growth pattern to occur.
“Before this procedure, babies with severe tracheobronchomalacia had little chance of surviving. Today, our first patient Kaiba is an active, healthy 3-year-old in preschool with a bright future. The device worked better than we could have ever imagined,” says Dr. Green.
“We have been able to successfully replicate this procedure and have been watching patients closely to see whether the device is doing what it was intended to do. We found that this treatment continues to prove to be a promising option for children facing this life-threatening condition that has no cure.”
It would seem that the results would be nothing short of miraculous considering the benefits that the children are experiencing, all documented by researchers who have been following all three cases since the splints were inserted. These are new devices though, and the doctors don’t rule out the potential for complications, although it has been smooth sailing so far.
With no negative side effects seen so far in the patients, the researchers have noted the following substantial positive effects:
- The children no longer need ventilators, paralytics, narcotics or sedation.
- Improvements have been noted in multiple organ systems.
- IV therapy was eliminated as patients were relieved of immunodeficiency-causing proteins, preventing them from absorbing food.
“We were pleased to find that all of our cases so far have proven to improve these patients’ lives,” Dr. Green says. “The potential of 3D-printed medical devices to improve outcomes for patients is clear, but we need more data to implement this procedure in medical practice.”
Richard G. Ohye, M.D., head of pediatric cardiovascular surgery at C.S. Mott was responsible for performing the much-discussed surgeries, and he sees the cases as hopefully providing the impetus for a clinical trial to benefit other children with less-severe forms of tracheobronchomalacia in the future.
Kaiba is now three and the splint is dissolving just as planned; in fact, doctors project that his trachea should show no signs of the tracheobronchomalacia in the near future. He is active and playful, and was recently at Disney World visiting with Mickey Mouse, thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“The first time he was hospitalized, doctors told us he may not make it out,” Kaiba’s mom April Gionfriddo remembers. “It was scary knowing he was the first child to ever have this procedure, but it was our only choice and it saved his life.”
Garrett is now two-and-a-half and is off the ventilator and very happy.
“We were honestly terrified, just hoping that we were making the right decision,” his mother Meghan Orbich remembers. “I am thankful every single day that this splint was developed. It has meant our son’s life. I am certain that if we hadn’t had the opportunity to bring Ian to Mott, he would not be here with us today.”
Again, nearly all the benefits afforded by 3D printing are in play here as the doctors involved were able to use affordable digital imaging and digital design to explore how to make something as innovative as these tracheal splints, which they were then able to customize and accommodate to a small size. You can bet these youngsters will indeed one day have a very special appreciation for 3D printing! Are you surprised that they could make such a big impact in the lives of these children? Discuss in the 3D Printed Tracheal Splints forum over at 3DPB.com.