On average, an adult human heart beats 72 times a minute, 100,000 times a day, and 2.5 billion times during the normal lifespan. A healthy heart moves 2,000 gallons of blood along 60,000 miles of vessels every day, and the fetal heart rate is twice as fast as an adult’s at 150 beats per minute.

A newborn baby has a total of one cup of blood in circulation while an adult human needs four to five quarts. And all of that make the heart the engine of the human system. But four-year-old Adaenelie Gonzalez had a heart that failed to do those things properly, and the condition she was born with meant blood traveled along the wrong track into her heart from the lungs.

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Last week Adaenelie was on the operating table for her third open-heart surgery, and with the aid of 3D printing, this may be her last trip to the operating room.

The Heart Program at Miami Children’s Hospital built a model of Adaenelie’s heart so that surgeons could identify problem sections of the little girl’s heart taking on the complex surgical procedure.

3D Heart Model 5 webDoctors call her condition total anomalous pulmonary venous connection. It means the four veins that carry blood from the lungs to the heart aren’t attached to the left atrium and as a result, blood is pumped to an incorrect area of the heart.

The condition causes a patient breathing difficulties, and it causes periodic heart failures.

“We were running out of options as she had already had a couple of surgeries in the newborn period. It became clear that to prolong her life, she needed to have another procedure done,” says pediatric cardiologist Dr. Nancy Dobrolet.

Much of the success of such a complex set of procedures lies in planning for every detail of the surgery, and Dr. Redmond Burke, the chief of cardiovascular surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital and Dr. Dobrolet’s colleague, says he was having difficulty visualizing the minutiae of the operation.

And the timing of the operation was critical as Dr. Burke felt life Adaenelie’s expectancy was down to weeks – if not mere days.

To make an accurate heart model, a team rendered CT scan data and then biomedical engineers transmitted the resulting files to AdvancedRP in Atlanta for printing. In the next 24 hours, the model was complete.

3D Heart Model 1 web

Adaenelie Gonzalez, left, is nearly back to normal after her third heart surgery.

Once he had the model in hand, Dr. Burke was able to divine the correct location of a new piece of heart tissue take from a donor.

And the surgery did the trick. Adaenelie’s blood began to flow normally.

“I think about heart repairs in three dimensions, imagining what I will do with my hands during each step of the operation,” Dr. Burke says. “I thought that holding and manipulating a flexible 3D replica of this child’s heart might allow me to plan an operation that hadn’t been done before – configuring the necessary patches to create the exact shapes and dimensions to match her deformed pulmonary veins.”

While she may still be in the hospital, doctors say she’s walking and playing.

“To me, it’s amazing. She’s been through so much,” says Adaenelie’ mother, Gabriella Alonso.

Models of various organs are now commonly in use to aid surgeons and medical students in their work, and 3D printing technology is at the forefront of the practice. Surgeons and students regularly build and consult models in search of the correct techniques to help their patients. Do you know about any instances where 3D printing has been used to save a patient’s life? Let us know your thoughts in the Saved With 3D Printed Heart Model forum thread on 3DPB.com.

3D Printed Heart Model

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