February 25, 2014

Fourteen-month-old Roland Lian Cung Bawi of Owensboro, Ky., who was born with a hole in his heart, is alive and well today, thanks in part to a 3D printed model of the organ.

Dr. Erle Austin III, University of Louisville cardiothoracic surgeon with University of Louisville Physicians, used the model to prepare for the life-saving surgery to close the hole.

“The biggest issue for patients who have this abnormality, it’s relatively rare, this double outlet right ventricle, is how is it going to be repaired?” Austin said. “Sometimes the surgeon has to guess at which is the best operation. Now we have good imaging techniques … but sometimes we misinterpret what we are going to find when we are actually looking at the heart right in front of us. I’ve always thought it would be valuable to me to have an image, something I could hold in my hand to look at before I did the surgery so I could plan the operation.”

The February 10th operation was a success and the prognosis is good after a return checkup.

“I found the model to be a game changer in planning to do surgery on a complex congenital heart defect,” Austin said.

Dr. Philip Dydynski, chief of radiology at Kosair Children’s Hospital, got the idea to use 3D printing after touring the university’s school of engineering’s rapid prototyping center.

He asked the center’s operations manager, Tim Gornet, if a 3D model of the child’s heart could be constructed using a template created by images from a CT scan to allow doctors to better plan and prepare for the surgery.

The answer: No problem.

“I did the modeling and the post processing and sent Tim Gornet the file,” Dydynski said. “I did not see the model being printed. I showed up at his office and he had this beautiful model and it was a sort of eureka moment. I knew Doc. Austin would be pretty excited when he saw that because it was very accurate reproduction.”

Gornet said it was particularly gratifying printing something that had such an impact on someone’s life because “a lot of times we’re working on inanimate objects, you know, parts that are gonna go onto an appliance or a car or something like that, and while they’re neat, they just don’t have that same human aspect that makes it a lot of fun to work on this.”

The model needed to be more than just anatomically correct though.

“In particular, they wanted a material that is similar to heart tissue, that has the same feel and look to it,” Gornet said.

The result was a model heart 1.5 times the size of the child’s. It was built in three pieces using a flexible filament and required about 20 hours of print time.

The cost was only about $600, but what it accomplished was priceless.

Have you heard about the 3D Printer World Expo? Click here for more information.


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