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Teen Saved by 3D Printed Tracheal Splint
December 16th, 2015
December 16th, 2015
For one Texas family, who spent their last Christmas worrying by their sick daughter’s hospital bedside, this year’s holiday season will be much brighter thanks to the help of 3D printing technology.
14-year-old Hannah Coulter, daughter of Marsha and Tommy Coulter, had been having trouble breathing for many years until doctors finally diagnosed her with with tracheobronchomalacia, a potentially life threatening disease that results in an eventual tracheal collapse. Hannah, who also has autism, underwent various procedures at a Texas hospital after the diagnosis to try and open up her trachea to allow her to breathe properly, but none were very successful.
Hannah’s father, Tommy Coulter says, “They told us her airway was so narrow that it was like breathing through a straw. It was shocking to everyone that she had survived it for so long.”
In fact, Hannah came very close to not surviving, as the Coulters remember their last Christmas Eve, “The doctor asked us to consider taking Hannah off the vent and letting her go. It was one of the worst days of our lives. The worst Christmas Eve we could imagine…We were just hoping for a miracle.”
Hannah’s situation remained quite hopeless, and the Coulters longed for a way to help their suffering teenage daughter. Fortunately, however, they did not have to make the difficult decision the doctors asked of them, as the team of physicians found a potential way to help Hannah to breathe on her own. The research came from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, where doctors had previously used a 3D printed airway splint procedure to help younger children and babies with a similar condition to Hannah’s.
The 3D printed splint procedure, which was developed by Mott’s Dr. Glenn Green and University of Michigan engineer Scott Hollister in 2012, had been used successfully four times on young infants, though had never been implemented on someone of Hannah’s age. For the doctors, the big difference was adapting the procedure from using a bioresorbable material for the 3D printed splints for young infants, which were made to grow with the children and gradually dissolve, to a 3D splint that would stay with Hannah for the rest of her life.
“When Dr. Green told us she was the first older child to have a procedure with this type of splint, we were of course nervous but at the same time it was incredible to know that this little girl with autism, who is non-verbal and can’t say a word, can help make this kind of difference,” explains Hannah’s mother, Marsha.
Because of the dire nature of Hannah’s case, the doctors at the Mott Children’s Hospital were able to receive emergency clearance for the modified 3D printed splint from the Food and Drug Administration, allowing them to perform the first surgery of its kind on the teenage girl.
The surgery took place two months later at the Mott Children’s Hospital and was performed by Dr. Green, Dr. Richard Ohye and their team. The splint itself, which was implanted into Hannah’s trachea facilitating the passage of air, was manufactured by a Connecticut based 3D printing and tech company Oxford Performance Materials.
“This was a major lifesaving surgery,” explains Dr. Green. “In contrast to the neonatal disease of tracheobronchomalacia…