National magazine honors creators of life-saving, 3D-printed airway splint

The University of Michigan surgeon and engineer who saved a baby’s life with a 3D-printed airway splint have won a Breakthrough Innovator Award from Popular Mechanics magazine, editors announced today.

The award winners are Dr. Glenn Green, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology, and Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery.

Perhaps the biggest winner though is Kaiba Gionfriddo, the 3-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio who received an emergency experimental treatment in 2012 for his severe tracheobronchomalacia, a rare condition that caused his airways to collapse routinely. The case is believed to be the first instance of a 3D-printed device saving a life.

Within the first two months of his life, Kaiba stopped breathing and turned blue twice. His first hospital stay was 10 days. His second was much longer.

“Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” said April Gionfriddo, Kaiba’s mother. “It was the most devastating thing that a parent could hear.”

Treatments weren’t working, so Green and Hollister obtained emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to implant a custom support to hold open a portion of Kaiba’s windpipe while he, presumably, grows out of his condition over the next few years.

Green, a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon, had been focusing on airway collapse treatments for several years. Hollister, a tissue engineering specialist, had been developing implantable 3D-printed scaffolds that could encourage new bone and tissue growth and eventually disintegrate into the body. The two were in the process of testing a splint like the one they used, but they hadn’t yet tested it in people.

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