TODAY   |  July 08, 2013

3-D printer produces device to help baby breathe

When 18-month-old Kaiba Gionfriddo was born, his family learned that his trachea was flattened, making it impossible to breathe. Engineers used a 3-D printer to make a revolutionary custom splint that holds his windpipe open, enabling him to take his first full breath. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we have told you about the advantages of the new 3-d printing technology . now it has become so sophisticated, they're being used to assist surgeons in operating rooms around the world. with that story, here's nbc's kevin tibbles.

>> reporter: hot off the printer. the 3-d printer. everything from auto parts to animated film characters to art. and now a way to save your life.

>> using this technology, we can design and print a rip replica of any part of your body.

>> reporter: and at the university of michigan , that's exactly what they're doing.

>> the device is game-changing. this gives us an opportunity to do something for children that otherwise would have no other options.

>> reporter: when 1 1/2-year-old kiba was born, his family was faced with devastating news.

>> not knowing if we were going to take him home or having to bury him, it's kind of hard.

>> reporter: kiba was diagnosed with a rare condition. his trachea, or windpipe, was flattened and weak, making it impossible for him to breathe. he had already gone into cardiac arrest several times.

>> if you look at it from the side, you can see it's quite narrow.

>> it's collapsed.

>> there is really nothing surgically we had to offer at that point for him.

>> reporter: nothing until engineers using a 3-d printser created a custom-made splint they hoped to open his airway.

>> it all sort of started with this. but what is this made of?

>> so this is made out of a polymer or plastic called poly capperla capperlacktone.

>> reporter: the process can layer by layer create the platform on which to regrow a new ear or nose or child's windpipe.

>> so it's like a treasure hunt .

>> yes, it's like playing in a sand box . you can see, we can build a variety of different things.

>> reporter: with his 3-d splint implanted, kiba was finally able to take his first full breath.

>> it was really amazing. his lung, which had been totally collapsed, instantly started inflating. it was pretty striking.

>> reporter: as an added bonus, over time , this high-tech splint will simply dissolve, as kiba becomes older and stronger.

>> we would like him to do everything that every little kid should deserve to do.

>> climb a tree, ride a bike?

>> climb a tree, ride a bike, everything.

>> reporter: a shot at a long, healthy future, for one very special young boy . and a giant step into the future for modern medicine . for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news, ann arbor , michigan.

>> cute story. very cute. kris jenner showed me a picture