Feb.22, 2014

Surgeons are finding 3D printers to be a lifesaver on the operating table. At Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, heart surgeon Erle Austin used a 3D printed model to plan and practice a complex operation for a pediatric heart patient in Kentucky.

Roland Lian Cung Bawi, a 14 months old boy, was born with heart problems that included a hole in the heart and misaligned aorta and pulmonary artery. He couldn't sleep and had breathing problems, said Roland's mother Par Tha Sung. "I didn't think he would survive."

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 1 percent of babies born each year. The defects can be complicated and diverse, and vary widely in severity.

In addition, pediatric operations require doctors to work in the complex interior of a small and delicate organ that hasn't formed correctly. Typically, they would peruse magnetic resonance images of the heart on a computer screen before a procedure.

Austin showed 2D scans to other surgeons, and got conflicting advice on how to proceed. He then decided to turn the 2D data into a 3D model hoping that a pre-operative 3D model might clarify the better path and raise the quality of surgery on this young patient.

"Some people think when you do heart surgery, you go in and can see everything. Well, to see everything, you have to slice through vital structures," said Austin. "Sometimes the surgeon has to guess at what's the best operation."

Austin turned to Tim Gornet, manager of University of Louisville's Rapid Prototyping Center, a 3D printing and research center that had already done models of spinal defects and tumors.

Gornet used the CT dataset to produce a 3D model that was then sent to a Makerbot 3D printer. In about 20 hours the 3D model was printed out using a flexible polymer known as "Ninja Flex". The cost was only about $600.

Instead of looking at the child's heart on the computer, surgeon can now hold it in his hand.

"Once I had a model, I knew exactly what I needed to do and how I could do it," said Austin. The model was made about two times actual size so doctors could see clearly its structure in order to create a tunneled pathway between the aortic valve and a ventricle, avoiding more cuts and multiple surgeries.

"If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a model is worth 1,000 pictures," said Gornet.

On Friday, Par Tha Sung brought her son to Louisville for a checkup, and his prognosis was good. "I couldn't express my feelings," she said to courier-journal. "He sleeps good. He plays ... he smiles a lot."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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