May 23, 2013 ( – Six weeks earlier April and Bryan Gionfriddo had proudly brought their newborn son, Kaiba, home from the hospital. To all appearances he was a perfectly healthy baby boy.


But then one night, while at dinner at a restaurant, Kaida suddenly stopped breathing and turned blue. Bryan placed his son on the table and began frantically performing CPR.

Kaiba survived this episode. Doctors sent him home from the hospital 10 days later. But two days after that, he again stopped breathing.

That was when doctors diagnosed him with tracheobronchomalacia, a condition in which the trachea is too weak and periodically collapses, making it impossible for the patient to breathe. 

Kaiba's case was grave. While in the hospital his breathing and heart would stop almost daily. Doctor’s weren’t hopeful.

“Quite a few of them said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive. It was pretty scary,” said his mother, April. “We pretty much prayed every night, hoping that he would pull through.” 

Fortunately the parents were put in touch with researchers at the University of Michigan who were working on cutting edge medical treatments involving the burgeoning field of 3-D printing.


The researchers were able to “print” a splint specifically fitted to Kaiba’s windpipe using a 3-D printer, a machine that creates a 3D object by spraying succssive thin layers of material, usually some form of plastic. 

“It's magical to me,” Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan, told CNN. “We're talking about taking dust and using it to build body parts.” 

Green’s colleague in the risky venture, University of Michigan biomedical engineer Scott Hollister, described his emotions on being asked to help Kaiba as, “a mixture of elation and, for lack of a better word, terror.”

“When someone drops something like this in your lap and says, 'Look, this might be this kid's only chance' … it's a big step.”

The researchers had already tested the technology on animals, but this was the first time it had ever been tried on a human being.

After receiving emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Green implanted the splint into Kaiba. 

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Almost immediately the scientists were able to see the fruits of their labors.

“When the stitches were put in, we started seeing the lung inflate and deflate,” Green said. “It was so fabulous. There were people in the operating room cheering.”

Kaiba is now 19 months old, and has not had any more breathing episodes since being sent home a year ago. The splint is designed to disintegrate within about three years, by which time Kaiba should be able to breathe on his own.

According to scientists, this is just the first success of what is likely to be a brave new frontier in medicine – using 3D printing to create replacements for any number of body parts.  


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