Operating on a child’s heart is a challenging procedure. Not only is the organ (presumably) defective, but it’s also small, complex, and delicate. So when Louisville, KY heart surgeon Erle Austin was preparing to operate on 14-month-old Roland Lian Cung Bawi’s heart, he first showed the scans of the muscle to two other surgeons, both of whom gave him “conflicting advice on how to proceed,” according to the Courier-Journal.
Then, Austin turned to the University of Louisville’s engineering school, which hooked him up with a MakerBot Replicator 2X. (From the video, it seems that the engineers had better luck with their 3D MakerBot printers than Ars ever did.) Using a computer model generated by the boy’s radiologist, the engineers fed the MakerBot with a new kind of flexible polymer “that’s similar in consistency to heart muscle,” Timothy Gornet, manager of the rapid prototyping center at U of L, told the Courier-Journal. They printed out three cross-sections of the heart, blown up to-scale, so that the surgeons could see the interior.
The model helped the surgical team cut down on operating time and reduce exploratory surgeries. The surgeons are also fairly certain that Roland, whose surgery was on Feb. 10, won’t need to have follow-up procedures. “Once I had a model, I knew exactly what I needed to do and how I could do it,” Austin told the Courier-Journal. “It was a tremendous benefit.”
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