3D Printed Model of Infant’s Heart Aids in Surgery


Heart defects are among the most common types of birth defects. It is estimated that nearly 1 percent of babies born each year will have congenital heart defects.

14-month-old Roland Lian Cun Bawi was born with such a defect. His heart surgeon, Erle Austin, had performed many pediatric surgeries before, but Roland’s condition – which included a hole, as well as misaligned aorta and pulmonary artery – was a complex surgery.

Unfortunately, heart defects aren’t always able to be easily repaired or corrected. Each defect is unique, and surgery can be diverse and complicated. Further complicating things is that surgery on an infant’s heart requires doctors to work inside of a delicate organ that is still developing, but hasn’t formed properly.

Typically, surgeons use magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of the heart on a computer screen before a procedure. Austin showed 2D scans to other surgeons, but received conflicting advice on how to proceed. So Austin decided to turn the 2D images into a 3D model.

Austin hoped that a 3D model would help to clarify which approach should be taken with the surgery.

Austin teamed up with Tim Gornet of the University of Louisville’s Rapid Prototyping Center, a research center that had already created models of spinal defects and tumors. With a 3D printer, the team created a model of little Roland’s defective heart. The model was printed two times bigger than the size of the actual heart, making the visual defects more clear.

The heart model was made using the scans already made of Roland’s heart. The model was printed using a “Nija Flex” material, and was printed on a Makerbot 3D printer.

“Once I had a model, I knew exactly what I needed to do and how I could do it,” said Austin.

The actual surgery on Roland’s heart was performed February 10, and from what hospital officials say, it was a success. According to Roland’s mother, the little boy who once had troubles sleeping and breathing is now playing and smiles – a lot.