By Marsha Lewis, Inside Science

(Inside Science TV) –   You've seen toys and prosthetics made on a 3-D printer but now, scientists are using 3-D printers to build implants that help babies breathe.

Natalie Peterson, a parent of a child who was having trouble breathing shortly after birth said of her son Garrett, “When he was born, he was so sensitive to everything…when the nurses would move his head, he would just turn blue instantly.”

Almost every day 18 month old Garrett Peterson stopped breathing due to a collapsed trachea.

“He was not able to breathe and he would actually go into cardiac arrest," said Glenn Green, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Luckily, Garrett’s doctors and researchers received FDA emergency clearance to use a 3-D printer to save his life.

He was only the second infant in the world to receive an implant that would hold his trachea open.  It's a one-of-a-kind splint made out of material that will eventually absorb back into the body.

“You can really customize them to patients’ shape and anatomy and that really gives you a big advantage," said Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan.

The splint was created from CT scan images of Garrett's trachea.  The images were used to make a 3-D model of Garrett's collapsed trachea to make sure it was a perfect fit and with the ability to print it using a 3D printer, the results were immediate.

“When we put the splint on we were able to see the lung instantly move up and down," said Green.

Garrett's trachea will gradually grow into place and the splint will dissolve over three years.

Green explained that, “The splint goes on the outside of the airway, sutures are put through the splint and wall of the trachea and that holds the trachea open.”

Today, Garrett is able to breathe on his own and growing into a healthy little boy.

“It’s fairly rare in our research that we build something that directly affects patients’ lives and that’s just a tremendous feeling," Hollister said.

Doctors Green and Hollister are also working on bio-resorbable ears, noses, jaw bones and facial tissues.  They believe they can help people born without these body parts, or those who have lost them in an accident.

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.