Revolutionary Surgery: 3D Printed Device Allows Baby to Breathe


For the second time, doctors at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital have used 3D printing to save a young child’s life.

18-month-old Garrett Peterson of Layton, Utah was born with a condition known as tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve. This caused tremendous pressure to be placed on his airways. He developed tracheobronchomalacia, which caused his airways to collapse to the point where they were just small slits.

Garrett has never been able to leave the hospital, where he’s spent his entire life hooked up to ventilators. His condition was so severe that his parents were not even able to hold him for fear of compromising his breathing. Even with the highest settings on the ventilators, Garrett’s breathing was still compromised by simple procedures, such as a diaper change, which would cause his airway to collapse.

After watching their son repeatedly stop breathing and turn blue multiple times a day, Garrett’s parents began looking for other ways to help their son. After reading an article from May 2013 about a six-week-old baby with a condition similar to Garrett’s who was saved thanks to a 3D printed device, they contacted Dr. Glenn Green at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Green, together with associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology, Scott Hollister and Richard Ohye, M.D, the head of the pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at C.S Mott, preformed the lifesaving surgery. Using provisions for emergency clearance from the FDA, they created a tracheal splint for Garrett using a biopolymer called polycaprolactone. It was custom designed and fit Garrett by using CT scans. On January 31, the splint was sewn around Garrett’s right and left bronchi to expand the airway.

Now, after surgery, Garrett is doing well. The splint is working and he’s able to ventilate his lungs and doctors are optimistic. The possibility of going home is in Garrett’s near future. He has also done short stints of time with no ventilator help, and is on continually decreasing ventilator support, now at less than a quarter of the pressure that he needed before.

“Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has frustrated me for years,” says Green. “I’ve seen children die from it. To see this device work, for a second time, it’s a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children.”