Life saved with 3D-printed airway splint

For 14-year-old Hannah, every breath was a battle. A lethal combination of a small chest cavity, an artery pushing up against her trachea and a rare, life-threatening disease that weakens the windpipe called tracheobronchomalacia had made breathing and eating increasingly difficult for the teen, who also has autism. Other surgeries hadn’t helped and few options were left.

Texas doctors had researched one other option at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor where a 3D printed airway splint procedure had helped babies with Hannah’s condition. Two months later, Hannah became the first teenager to receive the custom airway splint.

The U-M team had implanted 3-D splints designed for infants but never for a nearly adult patient. Mott surgeon Dr. Glenn Green was able to obtain emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to implant a custom splint for Hannah, making her the first teen to benefit from the procedure. “This was a major lifesaving surgery,” says Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at Mott. “In contrast to the neonatal disease of tracheobronchomalacia, the adult disease shows up later and more gradually, often worsening until death. An adult is much more likely to die several years after a diagnosis than an infant.”

Because of her age, Hannah’s case was a big first for us since our other procedures have all involved infants who needed airway support that would grow with them,” Green adds. “Being able to help Hannah indicates that we may not only be able to provide better treatment for other older children but for adults with these rare conditions who have no other options.”