3-D Printer Saves Girl’s Life

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download (1)By: Sherrie Chen

What can 3D printers do in our life? Most likely for printing model for architecture, engineering, etc. Who can believe 3D printers are used in medical area now?

Mia Gonzalez was a really normal girl on the outside. However, she was leading quite a different life—due to frequent colds and pneumonia, she skipped daycare and dance classes. While playing outside, Mia had to take multiple asthma medications because of her breathing problems.

It was not until several of hospital stays that doctors started realizing there was something wrong. It turned out there was a malformation in Mia’s aorta, which is the vessel pumping blood out from the heart. This closes off a part of the aorta and puts pressure on the windpipe, causing trouble breathing as well as swallowing.

Clearly, this news was shocking to the family. “We freaked out  from thinking she had asthma to being told she needed to have open heart surgery,” said Katherine Gonzalez, Mia’s mom.

Luckily, Mia’s malformation was complicated in the end by using a new technology—the 3D printer.

3D printers in hospital were used to make exact replicas of organs by planning surgery, and even do practice operations. The printer uses images from patients’ MRI or CT scan images as a template and lays down layers of rubber or plastic.

By using this type of model, Dr. Redmond Burke meditated on the model of Mia’s heart for a couple of weeks. He figured out he should cut into Mia’s chest from the right instead of making an incision on the left side for this type of heart defect.

The heart model really played an important role during the process. “Without the model, I would have been less certain about [operating on Mia] and that would have led me naturally to make a larger incision that could possibly cause more pain and a longer recovery time,” Burke said. “Using the model, there was no doubt, and surgeons hate doubt.”

Mia finally got rid of her sickness and was able to enjoy her life. Her operation opened a window. Though 3D printers were not fully put into use, the value in it was clearly unaccountable.

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