Marta Sambaer September 7, 2016

Mrs. Starks remembers the day when she learned about the condition of her baby. “The doctors told us she was very sick and born without the right side of her heart. I did not understand how a person can be born without a part of their heart,” she explained. Dr. Justin Ryan, a research scientist from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital recognizes the difficulty of this situation: How do you explain to anxious parents that their baby suffers from Tetralogy of Fallot with major aortopulmonary collateral arteries? It is too much information to take in while being shocked by the diagnose itself.” And besides reassuring the parents, congenital heart diseases always present a great challenge to the medical team who have to plan and perform surgery on a heart the size of a plum.

Luckily for Jemma, the hospital where she was rushed off to is equipped with a cardiac 3D printing laboratory. There, our Materialise Mimics software is used to create patient-specific anatomical models based on medical image data. These models allow the medical team to perform detailed pathology examinations and make precise decisions about patient treatment, meaning that even before opening a patient’s chest, doctors have a good picture of the patient’s anatomy.  In addition to this, involving 3D-printed anatomical models in the treatment has the potential to help decrease the time spent in the operation room, and helps to avoid unexpected complications. Dr. Stephen Pophal explains, “Having the model beforehand allows us to analyze and set the pathway for the surgery or intervention.”

Today, Jemma seems to be a happy toddler discovering the world. Despite her young age and the number of surgeries she has undergone, the treatment is not finished yet. Her parents are in close contact with the doctors, who are doing their best to explain Jemma’s heart defect and the necessary steps to heal it. The 3D-printed heart model played an important role in this communication. 3D-printed heart replicas allow the specialists to clearly and precisely demonstrate the procedure and goal of each surgery. “Finally everything makes sense. For the first time we understood the lifelong fight from our daughter,” says Stephanie Starks. Now she is more confident in the surgery process, knowing that the surgeons have seen Jemma’s heart prior to entering the operation room.

Phoenix Children’s Hospital implemented the Cardiac 3D Print Lab in their hospital 4 years ago. To date, they have produced more than 300 3D-printed heart models used for surgical planning and family consultations. With every new case, the added value of Medical 3D Printing is increasingly recognized.

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