When Katrina Bradley went to her doctor for an ultrasound, she was four months pregnant with her second child. Unfortunately, it was during that ultrasound that she learned that her baby was afflicted with a heart defect so severe that the predictions were more than 95% against the possibility of his survival. This devastating news left the parents in an emotional limbo as they waited and wondered. As Bradley described in an interview with Fox News:
“We did not have high hopes, so we made it through the pregnancy not really buying all the baby stuff or getting excited because we weren’t really thinking that he would survive.”
When the time came and the baby had been delivered, however, it seemed to Bradley that her son had an awful lot of fight in him and that maybe this baby could be one of the less than 5% who beat the odds. It was no miracle that suddenly healed him, but instead a long and arduous journey through intensive care units, surgical theaters, and nine years of continuing medical attention. The little boy with a lot of fight was named Ethan and he faced his first major surgical intervention when he was only one month old, undergoing open heart surgery and spending his first three months in pediatric intensive care. It wasn’t long after they brought him home, however, that his heart failed again and he returned for further surgery.
As is the case for so many families, the ongoing medical needs of their child simply became an aspect of the Bradleys’ everyday lives; it was very hard for Ethan to live a normal little boy’s life. He carried oxygen in his backpack and always had to sit on the sidelines while the other kids played, as even a couple minutes of exertion would leave him weak and breathless. The name for his condition is Heterotaxy Syndrome, the Latin for ‘a different arrangement’ and in the real world of living language, it meant that his heart had grown incorrectly. As his cardiologist, Dr. Kenneth Zahka from the Cleveland Clinic, told Fox:
“He had amongst the most complicated of heart defects, and everything was in the wrong place, and the wrong size, and connected backwards.”
It’s an uncommon occurrence, and one that requires extraordinarily complex surgery. The complexity of the necessary intervention was compounded by the fact that Ethan’s lungs had also never fully formed. The procedure that could possibly resolve his health issues required that Dr. Zahka reach out for additional expertise, and for this he engaged with his colleague Dr. Hani Najm, the Chair of Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. The 11-person surgical team that undertook the operation had to separate the atriums of Ethan’s heart and reroute his blood flow so that the spent blood was sent to his lungs and the oxygen rich blood was sent to the aorta.
Luckily, the surgeons did not have to go in blind. In addition to all of the data gathered from careful study of Ethan’s heart from the outside, the team had access to a 3D printed model of his heart that was generated from all of that data. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that having the ability to prepare for a surgery through this kind of hands-on examination leads to a better chance of positive outcomes and greater ease in the practice of surgery. And this was no exception. As Dr. Najm explained:
“The actual separation of his circulation on the inside is kind of novel – it is not common that we do this. But it is something that I was able to innovate. Because of the 3D printing, I was able to look at it, and sit in my office and decide what I needed to do.”
Despite the difficulty of the surgery and the associated risks, Ethan emerged in excellent condition and within six weeks had completely recovered. While this surgery is one event in his journey, it has given him an introduction to the beauty of childhood, which before he could only watch from the bench. Discuss in the 3D Printed Heart Model forum at 3DPB.com.[Images courtesy of Cleveland Clinic]
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