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3-D Printer Makes Life-Saving Splint For Baby Boy's Airway

A 3-D printer is being credited with helping to save an Ohio baby's life, after doctors "printed" a tube to support a weak airway that caused him to stop breathing. The innovative procedure has allowed Kaiba Gionfriddo, of Youngstown, Ohio, to stay off a ventilator for more than a year.

The splint that changed Kaiba's life was implanted in February of 2012, when he was 3 months old. Resembling a vacuum cleaner's hose, with ridges to resist collapse, the splint is made out of bioresorbable plastics that will dissolve within three years, according to the University of Michigan doctors who developed the unique treatment. They wrote about the implant in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drs. Glenn Green and Scott Hollister say that they created the splint after taking a detailed CT scan of the boy's bronchus, the airway leading into his lungs. That assured them of a reliable fit for the device, which they sutured onto Kaiba's left bronchus.

Kaiba suffers from tracheobronchomalacia, a condition in which airway walls are so weak that they collapse. He began experiencing problems at 6 weeks old, when he stopped breathing while at a restaurant with his parents, April and Bryan. Eventually, he began to stop breathing on a regular basis.

"We were very lucky," April Gionfriddo tells The Detroit News. "The doctors pretty much said he wasn't going to leave the hospital alive. His heart was stopping on a daily basis. If it wasn't for Dr. Green, he wouldn't be sitting here with us today."

The doctors say that before they could perform the procedure, which seems to be a first, they sought and received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The splint they implanted is made of polycaprolactone.

Now 19 months old, Kaiba "is about to have his tracheotomy tube removed; it was placed when he was a couple months old and needed a breathing machine," the AP reports. "And he has not had a single breathing crisis since coming home a year ago."

Kaiba's mom says that her youngest son is very active.

"He's getting himself into trouble nowadays," April Gionfriddo tells The Detroit News. "He scoots across the floor and gets into everything."

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