Ever since the day Garrett Peterson was born, his parents have had to watch him suddenly just stop breathing.
"He could go from being totally fine to turning blue sometimes — not even kidding — in 30 seconds," says Garrett's mother, Natalie Peterson, 25, of Layton, Utah. "It was so fast. It was really scary."
Garrett was born with a defective windpipe. His condition, known as tracheomalacia, left his trachea so weak the littlest thing makes it collapse, cutting off his ability to breathe.
"When he got upset, or even sometimes just with a diaper change, he would turn completely blue," his mother says, "and that was terrifying."
So the Petersons contacted Dr. Glenn Green at the University of Michigan, who specializes in conditions like Garrett's. He teamed up with Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer who runs the university's 3-D Printing Lab, to create a remarkable solution to Garrett's problem — a device that will hold open Garrett's windpipe until it's strong enough to work on its own.
Instead of shooting ink onto a flat page to print words or pictures, 3-D printers use other material, such as plastic or metal, to create three-dimensional objects.
"You build up layers until you have the complete 3-D structure," Hollister says.
3-D printers have been used to build jewelry, art and even guns. But Hollister is using the technology to create medical devices. He uses a 3-D printer that melts particles of plastic dust with a laser. He has already built a jawbone for a patient in Italy and has helped another baby with a condition similar to Garrett's. But Garrett is a lot of sicker and his condition is a lot more complicated.
"It's just been issue after issue with breathing, and just trying to keep him breathing at all," Jake Peterson, Garrett's dad, says.
At 16 months old, Garrett had never been able to leave the hospital. Every time he stopped breathing, it was a mad rush to save him. And the doctors weren't sure how much longer they could keep him alive.
"In some sense we were thrown directly into the fire," Hollister says. "We characterized it as sort of a Hail Mary pass."
So they rushed Garrett from Salt Lake City to Ann Arbor on Jan. 18 and got to work.
First they took a CT scan of Garrett's windpipe so they could make a 3-D replica of it. Next they used the 3-D printer to design and build a "splint." It's a small, white flexible tube tailored to fit around the weakest parts of Garrett's windpipe.
"It's like a protective shell that goes on the outside of the windpipe and it allows the windpipe to be tacked to the inside of that shell to open it up directly," Green says.
But the device has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So Green and Hollister had to convince the agency to give them an emergency waiver to try it. And they were running out of time.
"His condition was critical. It was urgent and things needed to be done quickly. It was highly questionable whether he would survive and how long he would survive," Green says.
Garrett's parents knew they were taking a leap of faith. But they felt like they had to try.
"We were just so excited for that glimmer of hope that this could be what would help Garrett get home," Jake Peterson says.
Hollister and Green got the FDA's approval and scheduled the surgery for Jan. 31.
As soon as the surgeon, Dr. Richard Ohye, opened up Garrett's chest, he and Green could see that Garrett's windpipe had collapsed. One of his lungs was completely white.
"The only time I'd seen a white lung was in somebody that had died," Green says.
They quickly got to work, gingerly placing the first of two splints on one side of Garrett's windpipe. It fit perfectly. So they got started on a second splint, which fit perfectly, too.
After more than eight hours, both splints were securely in place. Then came the most important moment: What would happen when they let air flow through Garrett's windpipe into his lungs?
This time, Garrett's windpipe stayed open, and his white lung turned pink.
"That was just amazing to me," Green says. "Here something that we'd worked on, that had been constructed just a week ago to match this defect. It had worked just the way we had hoped. I said, 'This is going to change this boy's life and his family's life forever.' "
Garrett is 18 months old now and is still in the hospital, but in the weeks since the surgery, he has gotten stronger and stronger and needs less help breathing. His parents are ecstatic.
"He has been doing so good. He's been smiling, and it's crazy to be able to see him get really upset and not change colors," Natalie Peterson says.
"He's being more interactive and more alert and reaching more for his toys. He's just starting to be more like a normal child," Jake Peterson adds.
Garrett's splint is designed to expand as he grows and eventually dissolve in his body as his own windpipe gets strong enough to work normally.
Green wants to save more babies this way, but it's expensive to transport these extremely sick children across country. It has also been hard to convince insurance companies to pay for the trip.
"It is one of the most frustrating things that I've been through, knowing that there's something that we have that can help and looking at all the roadblocks that are in place," Green says.
So he's hoping to launch a formal study, which may enable him to try more splints to save more babies.
Green says this is the most exciting thing he has seen since medical school. "We're talking about taking something like dust and converting it into body parts," he says. "And we're able to do things that were never possible before."
They've already started using 3-D printing to build more body parts, including ears and noses, by combining the plastic structure with human cells. Other scientists have gone even further, using 3-D printing to make blood vessels, skin and even primitive organs out of cells.
The math is clear: College pays off.
Among Americans ages 25 to 32, college graduates earned $17,500 more than high school graduates in 2012 — the largest pay differential ever, according to Pew Research. When it comes to earnings, "the picture is consistently bleaker for less-educated workers," the Pew study concluded.
But even as the value of a college diploma has been rising, the cost of tuition has been increasing even faster — far beyond the reach of most young people. The cost of four years of tuition, room, board, books and fees can stretch up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the pace of increase has accelerated throughout the recession and slow recovery.
The College Board says the average tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 27 percent beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from the 2008-09 academic year to 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of tuition more than tripled between 1973 and 2013.
That reality has been forcing more and more students to take on staggering debts. Among all students who graduated from four-year colleges in 2012, seven in 10 left with debt.
And that debt load is heavy — an average of nearly $30,000 each, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Just 20 years ago, fewer than half of college students graduated with debt, and the amount was less than $10,000 on average.
Such statistics can be especially daunting for lower-income families.
"Unfortunately, there are still a lot of young people all across the country who say the cost of college is holding them back," President Obama said earlier this month at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami.
He was there to tout an initiative to help students complete their applications for federal student aid, such as Pell grants and loans. Obama also wanted to call attention to his request to have Congress spend $100 million to support strategies for making college more affordable.
David Scherker, one of the students at Coral Reef High, said his parents have been scrimping for years to make sure he can get to college. "We don't splurge a lot," he said. And he is hoping to get as much aid as possible.
But not all his classmates have had such parental support and are less confident about being able to afford college. "Some of them are so stressed out about it that they don't want to talk about it," he said. Instead of their senior year being full of high hopes, "it's just a stressful time for everyone," he said.
Does college really need to be so expensive? What can families do in the face of such staggering costs?
NPR is launching a series of stories and conversations about college affordability. On two shows, Morning Edition and Tell Me More, hosts and guests will consider how college became so expensive, and how average people can pay for higher education.
NPR reporters will meet with families facing an onslaught of sophisticated direct marketing and data mining by schools, wading through the financial-aid process, trying to decipher often-misleading letters about scholarships and finally deciding whether a student's dream school is affordable.
These are some of the topics to be explored in coming weeks:
- Colleges say applicants must show "demonstrated need" to get financial aid. But some analysts say the formula for determining what a family can afford for college is arcane and unrealistic, leaving many with little help.
- In the years after World War II, the goal of going to college was within reach for many lower and middle-class students. But in recent years, cost increases have been far exceeding the pace of inflation. What policy shifts led to the affordability crisis?
- Black and Hispanic students are dramatically underrepresented in college programs focused on physics or astronomy. City University of New York is trying to change that with special help for minorities.
- Private high-school students are roughly nine times more likely to go to elite universities, such as Yale or Princeton, than public school students. What are the implications for income inequality as those students move into the workforce?
Connecticut-born composer-pianist Timo Andres likens his music to "walking into an interesting apartment and seeing a few things next to each other that tell you something about a person." At once familiar and modern, forward-looking and reverent, Andres's music tells the story of a composer striving to reconcile a fascination with the past and composers ranging from Mozart to Chopin to Brian Eno, with a stylish, pointillist craftsmanship all his own.
Andres discusses his "found sound" approach to composition, which begins as a dialogue with other music and develops from a tendency to "dissect the structure, remove the skeleton and fill in my own notes to the skeleton." Evocative chords — such as one from the second movement of Sibelius's Violin Concerto — can serve as a jumping-off point, something Andres is quick to illustrate at the piano.
His albums Shy and Mighty (2010) and Home Stretch (2013) demonstrate his exciting, idiosyncratic style of music-making and were met with critical acclaim.
For this opening episode of Season 2 of Q2 Spaces, Andres takes us on a tour of his sharply decorated apartment in Bed-Sty, Brooklyn, and shares stories of mushroom-hunting with his former teacher, Ingram Marshall, his ambivalence to the idea of musical heroes and how he could trace his whole persona back to Edward Gorey illustrations.
A couple weeks ago a writer friend texted me a screengrab of an Instagram of a stocky guy in a tight black T-shirt tucked into pleated black slacks. The pants were held at his actual waist by a black leather belt with a gold buckle. After the photo the friend texted simply "NORMCORE?" The man in black was Samuel Herring, lead singer of Future Islands, and he was already meme-ing his way into the hearts of thousands on Tumblr because of a certain dance move.
This was, quite possibly, the best and worst introduction to Future Islands. Worst because, well, NORMCORE. Best because the band's performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, from whence the original Instagram came, was anything but normal. They played Singles' lead single "Seasons (Waiting on You)." Herring howled and grumbled his way through it, dipping down low to do said dance move, then standing tall to audibly pound his chest and search for meaning. It was mesmerizing, like watching a young Marlon Brando yell "Stellaaaaaa" into the Barrymore's cheap seats. The rest of the band just stood there like stagehands doing their jobs.
Great performances like that raise expectations, especially if they're introductions, especially if they're to promote a new album on national television. So that is the weight on Singles, and yet, miraculously, it doesn't crumble. Singles is extremely catchy, well-constructed classic pop: winsome and simple melodies, yearning lyrics, bass lines that will never die. It is also dark and desperate and serious in a way that feels fairly rare these days. There is no ironic withdrawal, no equivocation to avoid abuse, just pure commitment. Herring's voice, which can go from searching whisper to hoarse demonic shout on a pivot, does much of this heavy lifting. He sings like a Teamster with an adorable family of twelve. Must be a Baltimore thing.
With Singles, Herring and his bandmates, Gerrit Welmers and William Cashion, have hit upon something that seemed in development on their previous records. Captivating and confident songwriting coalesce with a troubling vision of fields once green and now fallow, falls from grace, and fading away. Honest and earnest when few asked for it; willing to bare their souls, no matter how abnormal they might be, in front of millions; searching for answers where there are probably none; and yet still ideal for an oblivious two-step. Future Islands are probably deserving of something more in this existence than a four-second gif-loop with no sound, but these are dark times. At least they're dancing on the edge of the abyss.
Thou has never been about convention. The Baton Rouge metal band has little in common with its NOLA sludge peers, bucking Southern tropes for a world-heavy consciousness that comes from doom, punk, grunge, black metal, blues and drone. (They also love a '90s cover or two.) The members of Thou are fiercely DIY, outspokenly political and prolific — their numerous splits, EPs, 7"s, and compilation appearances over the last nine years sacrifice nothing to quality. But it's been four years since Thou's last full-length, the mighty Summit, and 2013 saw nothing released for the band's ravenous horde of fans.
But Thou has always made sense of its sprawling past and moved forward. Summit pushed the band sonically, but it could at times feel impatient in its experimentation. Some brilliant passages turned on a dime, not allowed to marinate in the despair. Heathen, on the other hand, bathes in foul pleasures. Case in point: It takes a full five minutes before Bryan Funck's unmistakable searing roar appears on opener "Free Will." But, oh, the build is a masterful Codeine-like guitar melody that carries the weight of the world. In the middle of this 14-minute track it becomes rallying cry for desperate revolutionaries: "We are the stone that starts the avalanche / We are the cough that spreads the plague / We are the spark that lights the inferno." It's thrilling and bound to be a clamoring-for-the-mic live staple, or at the very least a really killer quote for a backpatch.
This really sets the tone for the album: Civilization is dying and we must fight our way back to existence. Where Funck's lyrics sometimes felt divorced from their musical content, Heathen understands that the two should be inextricably linked. And the band's upped its musicianship. In recent years, when metal bands have let their shoegaze freak flags fly to varying degrees of success, the lessons learned from Ride and Slowdive are gracefully ingested here without even knowing it. "Feral Faun" is a thing of majesty, breaking up single-note bends with clustered chords — a classic shoegaze move rendered in Thou's own bleak context. And while the reference may be lost on some, "At the Foot of Mount Driskell" is the best tribute I've heard in years to early Starflyer 59, a band that understood how to sound oppressively blissful, even if the members of Thou don't know it.
While it's easy to be intimidated by Heathen's 75 minutes in a time of quick-hit downloads and (admittedly welcome) propensity towards shorter albums, Thou has made all 75 minutes essential here. Even the interludes — ever the filler for metal bands that don't know how to sequence albums — are used to full effect as foreshadowing and echoed themes. Early on, the ambient, acoustic guitar-led melody in "Dawn" — Current 93's stately and weird Renaissance folk comes to mind — is abstracted later on "Immortality Dictates," a showcase for Emily McWilliams, who provides string and brass arrangements on Heathen (and Summit), but is also a ghostly vocal presence here. And though I missed the mark on predicting a Southern black metal record with a ragtag brass band, it's yet another sign of what-might-be for Thou. Onwards, heathens.