3-D Printers Help Save Infants With Heart Defects

National   |   Sarah Zagorski   |   Oct 22, 2014   |   6:51PM   |   Washington, DC

Every year in the United States, 36,000 children are born with congenital heart defects. While some defects are minor, many are life threatening and require surgery.

Sometimes the surgeries can be dangerous because surgeons are going in blind; however, this summer physicians successful used a safer method to perform heart surgery. The surgeons at Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in New York used 3D printing technology to create a model of a two-week old infant’s heart. The model helped them plan and perform a child’s life-saving surgery.

3dheartDr. Emile Bacha, head of cardiac surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, told the News Times, “In the past we had to stop the heart and look inside to decide what to do. With this technique, it was like we had a road map to guide us. We were able to repair the baby’s heart with one operation.”

Dr. Bacha said this about the heart they performed on: “The baby’s heart had holes, which are not uncommon with CHD [congenital heart defects], but the heart chambers were also in an unusual formation, rather like a maze.”

Prior to the surgery, MRI scans were taken of the child’s heart so that a life-sized model could be made to plan the surgery. This 3D replica of the heart allowed the surgeons to visualize exactly which incisions to make. The procedure was funded by the Connecticut based non-profit, Matthew’s Hearts of Hope.

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“This is a game changer for CHD babies with complicated heart anatomy,” Marie Hatcher, founder of Matthew’s Hearts of Hope, told The Independent. “Normally the first time the surgeon sees the heart is when the chest is open, now they have the ability to plan out the surgery ahead of time while looking at a 3D heart.”

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Dr. Erle Austin of Kosair Children’s Hospital in Kentucky used a similar 3D printing method to examine his patient’s heart before surgery. The process allowed him to “go through a small incision and work through that and do all of that surgery with a minimum amount of injury to the heart . . . . The child had an excellent recovery and was home after only four days and required no heart medicine.

“If I went in and did surgery, took off the front of the heart and did irreparable damage, the child would not survive,” Austin said in an interview with Wired.

Beyond heart models, the innovation of 3D printing has captivated every corner of the medical field – from replacement ears and hips to dentistry and skull implants. Some estimate the global medical and dental 3D printing industry will grow to be worth approximately $800 million by 2025.