3D Printer Helps Newborn Breathe

16-month-old Garrett Peterson was born with a condition called tracheomalacia – a disease where the trachea is so weak that the smallest thing can cause it to collapse and cut off his ability to breath.

Simple tasks like changing a diaper or feeding him can turn into a life-or-death situation, as he will instantly stop breathing and even sometimes turns blue.

Never able to leave the hospital because of his dangerous condition, Garrett’s parents didn’t know what to do. Garret couldn’t spend his entire life in the hospital just incase his windpipe collapsed at an inopportune time, and they didn’t want to lose their son. So they reached out to Dr. Glenn Green, a pediatric otolaryngologist, who teamed up with Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer who runs the 3D Printing Lab at the University of Michigan.

Their solution? Use a 3D printer to create a device that will hold open Garrett’s windpipe and then dissolve once the windpipe was strong enough to work naturally.

From plastic dust they created something that would help Garrett’s windpipe build strength so that it could work on its own.

The device was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so Dr. Green and Hollister petitioned the agency to give them an emergency waiver to try it. The FDA approved and eight hours later, the device was in place.


Two months after the surgery, Garrett is still in the hospital, yet it is like he is a completely new kid. He has stopped turning blue, because the device is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It was so successful that Dr. Green is hoping to launch a formal study that might allow him to try more of these devices to help save more babies.

It is incredible how this technology is being utilized in the medical field. 3D printers are now being used to build more body parts, including ears and noses, by combining the plastic structure with human cells. We here at Alexandria Otolaryngology Associates will always keep an eye on new technology as it makes its way into the mainstream. Maybe one day these technologies will be approved for mainstream use, and we will be able to take advantage.