Doctors prepare for heart surgery with 3D printing


by Michelle Arnold

Posted on February 24, 2014 at 7:10 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 24 at 7:57 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Doctors knew 14-month-old Roland Bawi had a serious heart condition before he was born.

“Our group has seen him from birth. He was diagnosed as a fetus. He's from Owensboro,” U of L pediatric cardiologist Dr. Smitha Bullock said.

He was born with four congenital heart defects and he needed surgery. There was a big problem though; Roland's condition was so rare the surgeon had many different routes he could take to repair the defects.

“It was not completely clear, from the studies that were done, what would be the best operation,” UofL cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Erle Austin III said.

Dr. Austin needed to see the inside of Roland's heart in a 3-D image. That's where the University of Louisville's J.B. Speed School came in. Radiologist Philip Dydynksi contacted them with a tall order.

“Could we actually use the CT images and print the patient's heart and have the model before the child goes into surgery? So that's where the idea began,” Kosair Children’s Hospital Chief of Pediatric Radiology Dr. Philip Dydynski said.

For the first time ever in Kentucky, using a 3-D printer, a model one and half times the size of Roland's heart was created and used to prepare for the surgery.

“I'm putting my finger and I’m discovering, which it wasn’t clear to me beforehand, that the blood vessel that I needed to hook it to was actually much closer than I expected,” Dr. Austin said.

It took about 20 hours to make and the cost?  Shockingly low compared to the cost of surgery.

“The cost of building this is not thousands of dollars, it's hundreds of dollars,” UofL professor of Industrial Engineering Brent Stucker said.

Earlier in February, much in part to this $600 plastic heart model, Dr. Austin was able to repair Roland's heart with just one operation.

“I was able to work through the upper chamber. I could look through the valve and I could see this hole. I could sew that patch in and create a tunnel and I could also see that muscle and remove that muscle,” Dr. Austin said.

“When we saw him on Friday he was eating well…his mother was very pleased with how he was doing without any symptoms,” Dr. Bullock said.

Now the future looks bright for 14-month-old Roland but the future also looks bright when it comes to surgical planning.

“I think there is a clear and compelling reason both financially and for quality of life to see us doing this over and over,” Stucker said.