Megan Thompson was about 30 weeks pregnant when an ultrasound showed a walnut-sized lump on her tiny, unborn child's face that could prevent him from breathing after birth.
Thompson was referred to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital where doctors had to decide whether the baby could be delivered safely through a Caesarean-section or needed a rare and complex lifesaving procedure.
Using a specialised MRI of the foetus in the womb, doctors were able to use a 3D printer to print models of the foetus face, helping determine exactly where and how dangerous the soft tissue mass was.
"Based on the images we had, it was unclear whether the mass would block Conan's (baby's) airway after birth. The 3D printed model of the foetus allowed us to actually see in person what it looked like and have something in our hands to help us decide the best way to care for the baby," said senior author Glenn Green from C.S. Mott.
"This is the first case we are aware of that 3D printing has helped show how severe an airway risk in a foetus was in order to make clinical decisions," Green said.
The extra information gained from the 3D printed models helped doctors determine that Conan would not need what's called an Ex Utero Intrapartum Treatment Procedure (EXIT).
The EXIT procedure requires a partial delivery of the baby while it remains attached by its umbilical cord to the placenta so that a surgeon can establish an airway to allow the baby to breathe. Instead, Conan was born via a scheduled Caesarean-section.
"I was terrified when I found out there was a possibility my baby might not be able to breathe after birth," recalled Thompson, who is from Wayne county, Michigan.
"Hearing him cry after he was born was the most incredible, emotional experience because I knew he was okay," she said.
The case is outlined in the journal Paediatrics.