University of Michigan Health System/AP
April 30, 2015 07:20 PM

“He was basically suffocating,” Meghan Orbich told the Associated Press of her 17-month old son, Ian.

Ian suffered from a rare condition called tracheobronchomalacia, or TBM. Children with TBM have airways the diameter of pencil lead this can lead to fatal lung infections or heart attacks.

A cutting-edge 3D printed device that holds his airway open has saved his life. The best part? The device, called an airway splint, will expand as he grows and eventually dissolve when it is no longer needed.

A 3-D-printed tracheobronchial splint

This week, researchers published results showing that Ian and two other babies’ lives have been saved by airway splints along with tests showing that Kaiba, a 3-year-old who underwent the procedure as a baby, seems cured – the implant that helped him breathe is dissolving as his airways grow on their own.

Prior to receiving this experimental treatment, all three babies needed to spend much of their lives in intensive care and had to be on ventilators around the clock to help them breathe, the LA Times reports.

“A year after the implant, he is doing amazing,” his mother told AP. “It was a blessing.”

‘The materials for a splint cost about $10 according to lead researcher Dr. Glenn Green. Despite surgery costs, the procedure promises to ultimately save money by cutting down hospital time.

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