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3D Printing Helped Solve 5-Year Old’s Life-Threatening Heart Condition




A 3D printed heart model allowed doctors to perfect a life-saving surgery for 5-year-old Mia Gonzalez. Mia was born with a double aortic arch, a rare heart malformation where a vascular ring wraps around the trachea or esophagus, which restricts airflow. The condition required a complex operation to fix, but surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami were able to use a 3D printed model of Mia’s heart to plan the surgery and practice using Mia’s specific heart structure.


A Practiced Procedure


They printed two model of her heart, a flexible grey version and a clear, rigid one. Examining the clear 3D printed model of Mia’s heart allowed doctors to determine what the best treatment would be for the patient. The grey model then helped doctors successfully complete the complicated surgery. The clear plan they developed shorted the operation by about two hours.


“With a 3D printed model, we were able to figure out which part of her arch should be divided to achieve the best physiological result,” said Dr. Redmond Burke, Director of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.


“The challenge is a surgical one, how do you divide this double aortic arch and save her life without hurting her,” said Dr. Burke. “By making a 3D model of her very complex aortic arch vessels, we were able to further visualize which part of her arch should be divided to achieve the best physiological result. It’s very powerful when you show a family ‘this is your baby’s heart and this is how I’m going to repair it.’”

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A Method on the Rise


Surgeons at the hospital have begun using Stsratasys 3D Printers as tools to help improve patient outcomes by 3D printing lifelike organ models. Burke and his colleagues created heart models for about 25 children with congenital heart defects so far. In the past, surgeries like this on children might not have been worth the risk.


“Once patient scan data from MR or CT imaging is fed into the Stratasys 3D Printer, doctors can create a model with all its intricacies, specific features and fine detail. This significantly enhances surgical preparedness, reduces complications and decreases operating time,” said Scott Rader, GM of Medical Solutions at Stratasys.


3D printers have been used to make prototypes for surgical tools for more than twenty years, but only recently have been used to print organ models. Roughly 75 hospitals throughout the US have a printer for this purpose, of about 200 around the world. 3D printed simulated organs have now been used by surgeons to prepare for a wide range of difficult operations, such as correcting a severe cleft palate or removing a brain tumor.


Photo Credits: CNN


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