Visualizations Displaying Treatment of Severe Tracheobronchomalacia with 3D Printing Technology

final illustration

Background Information

Severe tracheobronchomalacia is a condition in which the trachea or major bronchi have less cartilaginous support, resulting in the collapse of the airway lumen. Treatment involves use of a ventilator and surgical intervention. On average 1 in 2,200 babies are diagnosed with tracheomalacia, but most grow out of it by the time they are two or three years old. In more severe cases, recovery is not possible without intervention, as was the case with a baby named Kaiba. At the University of Michigan, Professor Scott Hollister and Dr. Glenn Green developed a splint that could treat tracheobronchomalacia by using 3D printing technology.

The splint was composed of polycaprolactone (PCL) which was a malleable and biodegradable material. By using a CT scan of Kaiba's lungs, the U of M team was able to develop a computer model of the lungs and design a splint to fit them. The splint took one day to construct, after which it was surgically attached to Kaiba's collapsed left bronchus. Once it was attached, the lung immediately began inflating and deflating on its own.

This technology allowed for making of the splint in less than 24 hours at one-third of the price it would take to traditionally carve the splint by hand. In addition, it allowed for a patient-specific custom fit splint to be made. The same technology was used for a similar case with Garrett Peterson, an infant diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve. This caused enormous pressure on the airways that would result in severe tracheobronchomalacia, requiring splints to be sewn on both his left and right bronchi. The results of the surgery were of similar success. The bioresorbable PCL material is designed to expand with the baby's growth and degrade after 2-3 years, which is enough time for the infants' bronchi to develop and strengthen so that they will not require splints in the future.

HD Layout work-in-progress

Project Goals

This project endeavors to highlight the life-saving technology of the 3D-printed splint used in baby Kaiba's case to raise awareness among the medical community about the existence of this treatment for severe tracheobronchomalacia.  The final deliverable is in the form of an educational and editorial 2D illustration applicable to digital and print format. 



The main challenges of this illustration were finding the most effective ways to visualize the effects of the splint. Simply showing the splint did not give the impact of how it could be lifesaving in terms of opening the infant's airway. Ultimately, a cross-section paired with 3D models of the splint was employed to give both an outer and inner look into the function of the splint.



Date Started: 02/24/2015
Date Completed: 05/05/2015
Audience: Medical professionals and surgeons
Final Deliverable: 8.5" x 11" illustration


  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Autodesk 3ds Max
  • Pixologic Zbrush
  • Adobe After Effects



The above are sketches from various stages of the project's development. The first image is the initial sketch after drafting thumbnails and the second image is the revision of the sketch for better composition organization. As for the last two images, they were different color concepts for the revised sketch. The second color comp was chosen due to the greater emphasis on the lungs as well as the color choice being more suited for a medical professional audience.