• Doctors have successfully performed surgery on a nine-month-old baby suffering from a severe congenital heart defect. A 3D printed surgical model was used to guide the surgery, the first instance of such a procedure within the Jilin Province of Northeast China.

    The successful surgery, carried out on March 11 and assisted by a 3D printed model heart, represents another important milestone in the gradual expansion of 3D printing technology within the medical world. Less than a year ago, China witnessed its first batch of successful 3D printing-assisted heart surgeries, first in the Jiangsu Province in July, closely followed by another and surgery in the Anhui Province. Both events made headlines in national and international news. This latest surgery was similarly successful but, taking place in North Korea-bordering Jilin, further demonstrates that the technology is permeating through new regions of the world’s most populous country.

    The patient, a nine-month-old boy who weighed just 5.6kg before surgery, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (CHD) shortly after birth, when doctors noticed that he was experiencing shortness of breath. Worryingly for the boy’s family, the problems turned out to be even more severe than first thought. “The defect was very rare and complicated,” said Zhang Xueqin, the surgeon responsible for operating on the child and director of the pediatric cardiac surgery center at the People’s Hospital of Jilin.

    After being taken to hospital, it transpired that the infant was suffering from total pulmonary venous anomalous drainage, meaning all four of his pulmonary veins were out of position. Furthermore, the youngster was found to have a defect of the atrial septum, the dividing wall that prevents blood from flowing between the two atria of the heart. With such severe problems to contend with, the medical team had a real task on their hands to keep the child alive.

    Action—coupled with the services of a 3D printer—was required immediately. Being so young and small, the boy could not be subjected to several traditional surgical approaches, so doctors decided that 3D printing, which had demonstrated its efficacy in a handful of similar cases in China, would be utilized to create a full-sized 3D printed model of the boy’s heart. The medical team used Materialise’s Mimics software to convert MRI scan data into a 3D printable model.

    According to Zhang, the 3D printed heart made all the difference. ”With the model, we were able to know precisely where and how we should cut, and how big the incision should be,” said Zhang. “And with such a thorough plan, we spent only half the time we had expected to complete the surgery.”

    Whilst the young patient, now recovering in a general ward, could go on to lead a long and healthy life, Zhang warned that the boy is one of the lucky ones. If treatment had been delayed, the patient would have had an alarming 20% chance of surviving beyond his first birthday. In light of this, the heart surgeon has encouraged more hospitals in China to adopt 3D printing technology to ensure that more young lives can be saved.



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