3D printed airway saves infant's life

Doctor's were able to print a special custom airway for a 20-month-old baby and save his life.

I can't help it. There's just something about 3D printing that fascinates me. Maybe it's because I watched all of DS9 with my husband, and during each shopping trip to the local Publix I wonder when you techies are going to invent a replicator. I'm still waiting because I am not a huge fan of cooking.

The point is that 3D printing is cool. Sure, there will soon be  3D pizza printing in outer space , and you've probably heard about the entire explosion around  3D printing of guns .

But, like any major technology both good and bad come from 3D printing. Nuclear technology is one example. We got the nuclear bomb and we also got nuclear medicine, credited with saving and improving millions of lives.

This is just as true with 3D printing, and a story on sister site CBSNews.com is a perfect case in point.

An Ohio baby was born with a condition called "tracheobronchomalacia," a breathing condition that results in collapsed airways. Think of what happens with your garden hose when you squeeze it tight: no water comes out. Well, with the infant boy, Kaiba, his tracheal support cartilage simply wouldn't stay open.

For months, the child survived with intubation, which is as unpleasant as it sounds, especially for a little baby. But then doctors at UMich were recruited to help. They'd been working on developing technology for generating flexible tubing that could be used in situations like that of little Kaiba's. With an emergency exemption from the FDA (sometimes, the government can actually be helpful), the surgery went forward.

Two weeks after surgery he was breathing normally, without turning blue or needing emergency medical assistance. What's particularly interesting about the University of Michigan technology is that it's supposed to absorb into the body over years, once the child's own cartilage builds up as he grows into adolescence.

It's another win for medical technology, and another reason we can't simply judge a technology as good or bad. Remember, it's what you do with it.

Now, here's a quick tip: breathing is good for you. Take a few deep breaths, hold them for a few seconds and let them out. You'll feel better. Do it in honor of the UMich docs and little Kaiba.