I puffed away at my morning stretches and exercises. The radio was on, as a distraction from the pain and boredom. But I was composing a mental to do list and only half listening.
Until the announcer said something about 3-D printers and tracheomalacia. He went on to define the medical term my husband and I first heard in 1982. The doctor had used it to explain why our newborn baby’s breathing was a constant wheeze and rattle. “The cartilage in his trachea isn’t fully developed, so his windpipe flops and makes the wheezing sound.” He then offered reassurance that in our baby’s case it wasn’t life-threatening, and he would outgrow it.
The radio announcer’s voice pulled me back to the present. He told the story of a little boy named Garrett. His windpipe was so floppy, it often collapsed. Then Garrett couldn’t breathe. He turned blue. It happened so often that Garrett was 16 months old and had never left the hospital.
Until two men at the University of Michigan–a biomedical engineer named Scott Hollister and Dr. Glenn Green, a specialist in pediatric otolaryngology–came up with an idea. They decided to use a 3-D printer to design and build a splint to put around Garrett’s trachea to keep it from collapsing.
At 18 months, Garrett was still in the hospital. But he was getting stronger and needed less help breathing. He smiles now and doesn’t turn blue. His parents are thrilled. The splint will expand as Garrett grows and eventually dissolve in his body when his windpipe is strong enough to function on its own.
Again, my thoughts went back almost 32 years to the first weeks of our baby’s life. He lay in his bed in neonatal intensive care (NICU), recovering from the surgery that repaired his esophagus and saved his life. He wheezed and rattled, and when my husband and I voiced concern, the nurses spoke encouragement into our hearts when complications sprang up one after another. “He’s doing well. And who knows what medical breakthroughs will come along in the future.”
I cried harder.
Because for babies with tracheomalacia, the future is now. For them, a day I thought would never come has arrived in the guise of a 3-D printer. Dr. Green summed it up this way: “We’re talking about taking something like dust and converting it into body parts, and we’re able to do things that were never possible before.”
Until God in his infinite wisdom made possible what was never possible before. He allowed the creation of an amazing new technology. A technology others use for good to save babies’ lives. May God be praised.
And may parents be encouraged.
Parents who are waiting for a medical breakthrough that will save your child’s life or a therapeutic breakthrough to maximize your child’s potential, or a technological breakthrough to enhance your child’s quality of life, may you find encouragement in this example of our God using people to complete his redeeming and restoring work.
Until the future is now for you and your child. Until God’s redeeming and restoring work touches your family and brings you to tears of thanksgiving. Until we all bow together and join Paul in praising God for working in our lives and the lives of our children in ways we could not imagine or conceive.
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,
according to the power that works within us,
to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
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