Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 16, 2015

How a 3D-Printed Model Meant Life and Death to One Little Girl

The absolutely wonderful thing about 3D printing is that we've seen it do so much in a comparatively little amount of time. We've seen it make tools, we've seen it make toys, we've seen it make dinner in one case involving NASA's attempt to 3D-print an entire pizza, and on more than one occasion, we've seen it save lives. Chalk one more up for 3D printing's life-saving capacity, as surgeons at the Miami Children's Hospital turned to 3D printing to make a model that saved a little girl's life.

For one four year old in Miami, suffering from anomalous pulmonary venous connection (TAPVC), that 3D-printed model turned out to be a lifesaver. With TAPVC, essentially, the heart's plumbing is somewhat mislaid, and her veins actually pump blood to the wrong part of the heart. This causes a variety of problems ranging from breathing difficulties—oxygenated blood isn't getting to the right places—as well as lethargy, and not at all surprisingly, an immune system that didn't have a lot of juice to it.

But for cardiovascular surgeons at the Miami Children's Hospital, a fix was as close as the nearest 3D printer. Using said printer, and a series of scans, the doctors created a model of the little girl's heart, and could thereby plan out a surgery the like of which had never actually been tried before. Meanwhile, parts from a donor were brought in to help bridge the gap between the model and the reality, and the end result left a little girl with a heart that functioned much more closely to reality. Said little girl is reportedly recovering now, and blood is flowing normally once more.

This isn't, of course, the first time we've seen 3D printing put to work in the doctor's office. Previously, the technology has allowed the creation of highly-customized prosthetic devices, as well as even devices intended for internal use. Plus, back last year, doctors used a similar tactic when planning a heart surgery on an infant at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.

News about 3D printing has of late been a bit slim, but the arrival of the 2015 CES event proved that this wasn't a technology that was either dead or dying. Indeed, plenty of developments arrived at the event to show that this technology was still gaining ground and would likely continue to do so for some time to come. That—for at least two young children who have the potential for life restored as a result—is good news for the lot of us. This is a technology that has the potential to change the fundamental nature of a host of things as we know it. From marketing to manufacturing, from healthcare to space travel, the ability to manufacture goods in one's own home or office could represent sea changes for nearly anything. Imagine the ability to offer an email link to a user that says “Don't believe us? Try our product now!” and the user can press the 3D-Print button to generate a plastic mockup of the device in question. A metal one can be had, meanwhile, for a price. Further, what if we no longer sell products at all, but merely the blueprints to products such that users can make said products at home?

The impact of 3D printing is yet to be fully felt, but one thing is clear: for one little girl, and for those like her, 3D printing may well have saved a life.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

FREE eNewsletter

Click here to receive your targeted Healthcare Technology Community eNewsletter.
[Subscribe Now]