Infants born with congenital heart defects often need to undergo surgery quickly to repair the holes in their heart. But for a two week old at a hospital in New York, the surgery was going to be especially difficult. The child’s heart not only had holes that needed to be repaired, but the heart was structured in a very unusual way. Dr. Emile Bacha related the heart chambers to that of a maze. Typically in cases like this, doctors would have to open the chest and stop the heart in order to figure out how to proceed with the surgery. Doing this in a two week old baby is very dangerous and it makes surgery a slow process.
However, using information from MRI scans, Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City was able to 3d print a copy of the child’s heart. The three dimensional model of the child’s heart allowed surgeons to easily see where all the chambers of the heart were, as well as the holes. This meant that they could completely plan out the surgery before it even began. Now instead of needing multiple surgeries, Dr. Emile Bacha was able to completely repair the heart with just one surgery.
This technology has been used prior to help guide surgeons. A surgeon in Kentucky used the process to help perform heart surgery on a child patient of his own. He needed to remove the front of the heart and plan how to remove the obstruction. Any wrong move could cost the child their life, so knowing ahead of time all the intricate details of the heart is critical to success. Having the 3d models ensures success because they allow doctors to see and examine the heart in detail without any risk to the patient. This is especially true in infants with CHD because their bodies have a much harder time with surgery and it is much harder for doctors to examine the tiny hearts in detail.
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