Surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio have used 3D printing to operate on boy with Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare birth defect. Doctors said the boy’s heart seemed to have “two right sides” and no left, giving him serious breathing difficulties.
Every day seems to bring another medical 3D printing success story, with surgeons now perfecting the art of 3D printed surgical models and guides. The latest case of 3D printing saving lives comes in the shape of nine-year-old Ethan Bradley from Grafton, Ohio, who underwent surgery in August 2016 after suffering his whole life from Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare defect that affects heart function and oxygenation levels. By using a 3D printed model of Bradley’s heart, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic were able to prepare thoroughly for surgery by inspecting the 3D printed heart and practising incisions on it.
All his life, young Bradley had been living under the severe constraints of Heterotaxy syndrome. With his oxygen levels rarely exceeding around 55 percent, the boy was barely able to walk around freely, let alone fulfil his dream of joining a basketball team. When in the womb, Bradley was given a one to five percent chance of survival because of the extremely complex defect from which he was suffering. The problem was severe: Bradley’s internal organs were arranged in the wrong place within his chest and abdomen.
Soon after birth, which the youngster was incredibly lucky to survive, Bradley underwent open heart surgery, spending the first three months of his life in intensive care. Further surgeries and spells in hospital followed across several years, until the child’s parents started noticing that the physical condition was taking a psychological toll. Bradley was unable to take part in any kind of physical activity, and came to think of himself as an outsider.
When Bradley was nine years old, his family took the bold decision to try a new kind of surgery to improve the child’s severely restricted life. The child’s doctor referred the Bradley family to Cleveland Clinic, where surgeons could potentially separate the atriums of the child’s heart without affecting the ventricles, the lower heart chambers. The procedure could theoretically reroute Ethan’s blue blood to his lungs and his red blood to the aorta.
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