July 24, 2015 | By Simon

One only needs to take a quick browse through the top 3D printing news stories of the past month to see just how much of an impact additive manufacturing has had on the medical industry.  To date, 3D printing has been used for creating everything from study aide models for surgeons to practice surgical procedures in advance of a surgery or for actual parts that are implanted into a patient.   

But although it has become apparent that 3D printing is beneficial to the workflows or procedures of many medical professionals, it will only ever be beneficial to those who have access to it.   

For Houston, Texas resident Anne Garcia, giving doctors a 3D printed model of a child’s heart before cardiac surgery for studying has become a life mission.

Garcia, who gave birth to her daughter Ariana in June of 2014, knows first hand just how much this means to a new mother after Ariana was born with an undiagnosed heart defect, and at about six weeks old, stopped breathing.    

After taking Ariana to her local emergency room, it was determined that she would need to spend at least 10 weeks in the pediatric care unit.  While speaking to Ariana’s doctor one day in the unit, he said that if he could “have a model of the patient's heart before he went into surgery, it'd be worth a million dollars."  

Inspired by what the doctor said, Garcia set about finding a service that would 3D print Ariana’s heart - which was determined to only cost roughly $200 to manufacture.  

Because of this experience, Garcia founded OpHeart, a Houston-based nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that children receive the best cardiac care possible by helping provide a 3D printed model to the child’s doctor for reference.

“We believe that if pediatric cardiac care teams, and particularly surgeons, had the ability to review and even practice surgery on a 3D printed replica of a particular patient’s heart, patients would receive better treatment, ultimately resulting in better outcomes, not only with respect to their short-term recovery but in addition with regard to re-operations and overall health and abilities, cognitive as well as physical,” explains Garcia.

Although the price of 3D printers has come down dramatically within the past few years, the amount of additional 3D hardware and software needed aren’t necessarily easy for a surgeon to use - or even order - for each patient.  Additionally, many insurance companies are yet to have a code for the procedure.  

Similar to how we’ve seen 3D printed models being used around the world by many different types of medical professionals, the models provided by OpHeart will allow surgeons to plot out a precise plan of action before an operation.  Although medical professionals are familiar with the general layout of each heart, various features can be different from one individual to the next - especially when it comes to deformities seen in newborns.  Ultimately, the models will be provided to Houston-area doctors in an effort to help lead more efficient surgeries that are not only successful, but also minimize surgery and recovery time, too.   

Currently, Garcia and the rest of the OpHeart team are working with doctors, nurses, 3D printer manufacturers, software developers, medical device companies, third-party payors and CCHD families to get doctors access to 3D printed models of patients’ hearts for the benefit of as many children as possible.  Within the next five years, the nonprofit hopes to expand significantly to include a Board of Directors, a $100,000 prize for innovators in pediatric cardiology, a completed in-depth 3D print study, an established system for easy reimbursement for 3D models from health care providers, as well as the ability for families to easily research particular doctors that use the OpHeart network.

“We know how blessed we were, to have gotten Ari to a top-notch surgeon minutes before she would have died," adds Garcia. 

"But not everyone is as lucky, and the relatively short moment in time from diagnosis to treatment of a CCHD can determine the entire trajectory of a child’s life, or even whether she lives or dies.  We want all families to have the best care possible, and doctors to have the tools to perform at their best.”

While it’s still a young concept, the rapid growth of 3D printing usage in the medical industry leads us to believe that Garcia is onto something and we’ll likely be seeing a lot more similar concepts sprouting up around the world within the next few years.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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