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Saving a baby’s life with a 3-D laser printer

Kaiba's story

Ever since he was six weeks old, baby Kaiba often stopped breathing.  The part of his windpipe that carries air to his left lung would suddenly collapse, leaving him unable to breathe and requiring emergency assistance every time.

Kaiba had a condition called tracheobronchomalacia. It’s a rare condition – about 1 in 2,200 babies are born with tracheomalacia and most children grow out of it by age 2 or 3, although it is often misdiagnosed as asthma that doesn’t respond to treatment.

Severe cases, like Kaiba’s, are even more rare, and they are very frightening.

It’s a condition that has bothered me for years.  Children die from tracheobronchomalacia, but I hoped that help could be found for these children.

Kaiba’s parents, April and Bryan, were left watching helplessly each time he stopped breathing, praying that something would change and doctor’s predictions that he would never leave the hospital again weren’t true.

They lived in Ohio but they were willing to go anywhere if it meant they could get help for Kaiba.  Fortunately, they didn’t have to go far.


My colleague Scott Hollister and I had been working on a type of device that would be perfect to help splint little Kaiba’s airway, keeping it clear for air to continually flow to the lungs.

Scott is actually a professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering – but that’s the great thing about being a doctor at the University of Michigan.  The very campus we work on is full of some of the brightest minds in the world.  With creativity, imagination, and the willingness to cross boundaries to work with scientists of different backgrounds, you can find ways to explore nearly any idea you could imagine to improve the way we deliver healthcare.

Scott and I had been exploring creating implants using a type of biodegradable polyester called polycaprolactone for a while, but it had never been used in this way before. Because of the urgency of Kaiba’s life threatening condition, though, we were able to get emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to create a tracheal splint for him, using the material.

3dsplintWe custom designed Kaiba’s splint using high-resolution images from a CT scan of Kaiba’s trachea and the bronchus that was collapsing.  Using computer-aided design and a special laser-based 3-D printer, we produced the splint specifically to fit Kaiba’s needs.

On February 9, 2012, Kaiba’s parents entrusted us with Kaiba’s care, and we took him back to the operating room for the procedure to implant the splint.  The splint was sewn around Kaiba’s airway to expand the airway and give it a skeleton to help it grow properly and with greater strength. Over about three years, the splint will be reabsorbed by the body.

As soon as the splint was put in, the lungs started going up and down for the first time and we knew he was going to be OK.

Kaiba was off ventilator support 21 days after the procedure, and has not had breathing trouble since then.

For Scott and I, Kaiba’s case is definitely the highlight of our careers so far. To actually build something that can save a person’s life? It’s a tremendous feeling.

The image-based design and 3-D biomaterial printing process we used for Kaiba can be adapted to build and reconstruct a number of tissue structures.  We’ve used the process to build and test patient-specific ear and nose structures.  Scott has also used the method with other collaborators to rebuild bone structures in pre-clinical models.

We’re excited about what we could do for Kaiba, but there are many other kids like him that need this type of treatment and don’t have access to it.  The challenge before us now is to find a way to refine the technology, test it, and make it available for other children all over the world.  That’s what research and clinical trials do, and we intend to make that happen.

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mott blog - glenn green thumbGlenn Green, MD, is a pediatric otolaryngologist at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.  His areas of specialization are complex pediatric airway disorders, hearing and language development, and care of children with a congenital syndrome.

 

 

best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.

41 thoughts on “Saving a baby’s life with a 3-D laser printer

  1. avatar
    Misty Odom on said:

    You are truly an amazing doctor. I am so thankful for you coming into my life when you did. You are doing amazing work. Thank you for everything you did for our family.

    • avatar
      Glenn Green on said:

      Thank you for sharing, Misty. This touched me so deeply. Damien and he sweet spirit have been an inspiration for me. He is the reason this has happened.

      • avatar
        Madalyn Glaser on said:

        Dr. Green you are truly amazing. We are so blessed to have you as Payton’s doctor. I knew when we met you there was something about you that I really liked, your passion to help these kids. God sent these kids one amazing doctor to take care of them. So proud of you! Thank you for all that you do.

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  13. avatar
    Marguerite Swartz on said:

    I am so happy for this baby and his parents. It is wonderful that the doctors and everyone involved was able to solve this little persons problem. Now he can grow up to be healthy and strong. 37 years ago my son was born with what the doctors called an immature trachea. It’s sounds very similar to this child’s problem. He turned blue on me one night while I was holding him. It was horrifying. It would take me nearly an hour to get him to drink maybe 1 ounce of milk and a portion of that would go into his lungs. He had pneumonia over and over. He was in the hospital so often the 1st year that I was on a first name basis with everyone there. He lost weight the 1st couple months. They did an exploratory surgery to see if there was a blockage but there wasn’t. I don’t think I slept longer then 45 minutes at a time except when he was in the hospital. On the rare occasion that he could breath quietly I would wake up terrified thinking he might of died and would stand and watch to make sure he was still breathing. I loved him so much and it was so hard to see him suffer and not get to be normal and to worry that he might not make it. I’m so glad this family was spared all that. Now hopefully no one else will ever need to go through the same thing again.
    One of the harder things I also had to deal with were the occasional cruel comments from people who thought he should of just been allowed to die. Their reasoning seemed to be along the lines that by saving babies like that the human ‘herd’ was being weakened. That evolution or survival of the fittest was somehow being bypassed to the detriment of mankind. My response was well maybe we should not treat people who get an infected cut or break their leg either. Let them die of infection because maybe we don’t need them to pass on their clumsy genes either. As things turned out my son grew up to surpass in every way those that wanted to let him die. As an adult he is caring, strong, healthy and smart. He is a martial arts instructor who volunteers at the schools to teach children how to break free from holds and run away. He hopes that if any of them are ever grabbed they will be able to save themselves from a would be kidnapper. He has a masters degree in archeology, a good job and owns a home. I am very proud of him. He grew up to be one of the best of the human ‘herd’.
    If possible and if the kind doctor feels it would be helpful I would appreciate it if my story could be passed on to Kaiba’s family. I know when my son was little even though all the medical people were so kind it really stung when I would occasionally be told my son should of been let die. Even though I knew it wasn’t true it nagged at me. I worried that he might always be sickly and have a less then perfect life. As it was I had nothing to worry about. He is now healthier and stronger then most. Sometimes even though we know something it is good to hear someone else say it. I would like Kaiba’s family to know that I am really happy for them, I wish them well and I know that now their baby will grow up to be a healthy strong and wonderful human being.
    Thank you Dr. Green and friends for making that possible.

    • Obviously, you did the right thing and those people who believed evolution were completely wrong. If evolution were true how could we tell right from wrong? It would just be every ones opinion. God put laws into His creation that show there must be a creator, such as order does not come from non order. There can’t be an explosion that creates life full of order. We also can’t get life from non-life. For example a rock will never come alive even if it has millions of years. Life contains cell, which contain information and information must have a sender. That sender is God, he has written His laws in every human heart and that’s why we know what is right and wrong. You were right to have compassion on your child even at great expense to your self, because that’s what love is. Love is sacrifice for another person. God is love, that’s why He sacrificed His Son on the cross for us. The people who told you that were cruel and no loving.

  14. avatar
    Glenn Green on said:

    I will share your son’s story. His comdition sounds very similar to what Kaiba had, just one level less severe. Thank you for sharing.

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  16. avatar
    Madalyn Glaser on said:

    Dr. Green you are truly amazing. We are so blessed to have you as Payton’s doctor. I knew when we met you there was something about you that I really liked, your passion to help these kids. God sent these kids one amazing doctor to take care of them. I showed Payton the video and she kept kissing the screen saying “thats my Dr. Green, I love him”. So proud of you! Thank you for all that you do.

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  19. avatar
    Liz Murdo on said:

    What a wonderful, wonderful story. Congratulations to Dr’s. Green and Hollister and their entire team on a marvelous technological, life-saving breakthrough. Wonderful to see a sweet little boy will be able to grow and thrive because of this cool innovation.
    One thing, though…he’s named after an Anime character?

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  28. Is there technology like this that could help our son? He has tracheomalacia, esophagomalacia, laryngomalacia and a tongue tie. At first breathing and eating were difficult for his first 6month of life. Now we find feeding and weight gain are our biggest problems at 15 months because of these throat issues he aspirates his food. He’s having severe delayed development. How does a person get a referral?

    • avatar
      Glenn Green on said:

      The best way to get a referral would be to talk to your primary doctor. You can show them our New England Journal of Medicine article found at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1206319 which also has my email address for them to contact me. My team can then go through the process of finding out how we can best help you — sometimes it is just a matter of finding the right person in your own backyard.

      • Thank you I will certainly look more into this. Has anyone ever use the splint for the esophagus to hold it open or has it only been use on the Bronchial Tube?

        • avatar
          Glenn Green on said:

          Tracheomalacia is often associated with esophageal abnormalities. We are fortunate that we have teams with expertise in dealing with both issues. We would need information from your physicians to be more precise.

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