3D printing is the next big thing, the new revolution. And it’s only showing signs of growing. 3D printing has been used in 3D food, 3D prosthetics, 3D car parts and now it has been used in a diagnosis that saved the life of a 1-year old child, Roland Lian Cung Bawi.
Roland’s heart had a hole in it along with a misaligned aorta and pulmonary arteries affecting the direction of flow of blood. If untreated, Roland could have had a very short lifespan. Dr. Erle Austin, from Kosair Children’s Hospital stepped in and got 2D images of Roland’s heart and discussed with other surgeons. The other surgeons gave opinions that contradicted each other’s.
So Dr. Erle went to the School of Engineering at Louisville and got a 3D model of the heard made by using their Makerbot Replicator 2X 3D printer. The 3D heart cost $600 to print. The model was printed into 3 parts so looking inside was possible. According to Dr.Erle:
Once I had a model, I knew exactly what I needed to do and how I could do it
So, what‘s the big deal? In pediatric surgery, planning is everything. A surgeon can’t randomly cut an internal organ and go “Oh, I should not have cut that”. In words of Dr.Erle, who gave an example of buying a home but only being able to look through the windows.
“Some people think when you do heart surgery, you go in and can see everything. Well, to see everything, you have to slice through vital structures. Sometimes the surgeon has to guess at what’s the best operation.”
With the help of the model, it became clear that the surgeons had to create a tunneled pathway between the aortic valve and a ventricle. The 3D model saved a lot of cutting and guesswork and a lot of planning and operating time.
Roland is now living a healthy life with a normal lifespan. Quoted by the manager of Louisville’s School of Engineering 3D printing research center:
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a model is worth 1,000 pictures.