The trachea, the tube that moves air from your mouth to your lungs, can be a delicate little thing. Sometimes, babies are born with weakened cartilage surrounding theirs - a condition called tracheomalacia - putting them at risk for suffocation if the tube collapses. For one baby, doctors created a custom splint with a 3D printer to keep the airway open.

To the amazingly wide-ranging list of accomplishments attributed to 3D printing technology, we can now add one more: a custom-made tracheal splint that saved the life of an infant with tracheomalacia and will be safely absorbed into his tissue over the next two years. A team of doctors and engineers from the University of Michigan printed the splint and implanted it into six-week-old Kaiba Gionfriddo last year, and announced the feat in a letter published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

...For this splint, they used a CT scan of Giondriddo's trachea and left bronchus to create a 3D digital representation that was then printed, allowing them to produce a splint that would perfectly match his airway's size and contours.

On February 21, 2012, the splint was surgically sewn around Giondriddo's failed bronchus; almost immediately, it held open his air passages and allowed him to breathe normally.[Smithsonian]