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Doctors Fashion 3-D Printed Airway for Baby, Giving Him Breath of Life

Update Date: May 23, 2013 01:52 PM EDT

When Kaiba Gionfriddo was six weeks old, his family and he went out to dinner. Suddenly, Kaiba stopped breathing. His father, Bryan Gionfriddo, saved his life by performing chest compressions on him, but the breathing problems persisted. Eventually, Kaiba and his family went to the hospital where he was put on a respirator. As his mother, April Gionfriddo, explains in a video, which you can see below, doctors had no idea what to do; they told his parents that his likelihood of leaving the hospital was minimal.

Kaiba has a rare birth defect called tracheobronchomalacia, a condition that affects just 1 in 2,200 babies, according to Time magazine. Even that number may be an underestimate, since the problem often solves itself by the time the child is two or three years old, and many doctors misdiagnose it as treatment-resistant asthma. In fact, the rare condition occurs when the walls of the airway are so weak, that they collapse when a person is breathing or coughing, cutting off a person's air supply. Kaiba was one of the unfortunate 10 percent of people with the condition who have it the most severe. CBS Detroit reports that, even with constant monitoring, Kaiba needed to be resuscitated every single day.

Fortunately for Kaiba, who was staying in a hospital in Akron, Ohio, his doctor was Dr. Marc Nelson. Dr. Nelson told Kaiba's family that doctors in Michigan were working on a device that could potentially save their son. Kaiba's parents wasted no time in contacting doctors Glenn Green and Scott Hollister. The timing was fortuitous. As Dr. Green writes on a blog, "Scott and I had been exploring creating implants using a type of biodegradable polyester called polycaprolactone for a while, but it had never been used in this way before. Because of the urgency of Kaiba's life threatening condition, though, we were able to get emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to create a tracheal splint for him, using the material."

The doctors designed a splint for Kaiba, which was sewn around the baby's airway to expand it and to give it a skeleton that would prevent its collapse. They printed it using a 3-D printer and then inserted it into the baby's body. They were able to see that it was a success immediately, and he was taken off ventilator support a mere 21 days after the procedure. The doctors say that his body will absorb the splint in three years. Now 20 months old, Kaiba is a healthy toddler living at home with his parents and siblings.

"He has not had another episode of turning blue," April Gionfroddo said in a statement. "We are so thankful that something could be done for him. It means the world to us."

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