SSM Health Medical Minute: How 3D printing of children’s hearts is improving outcomes

Medical Minute

ST. LOUIS – The use of 3D printing has long been recognized as a valuable tool in health care. At SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, the 3D modeling occurs on-site with their very own 3D Center of Excellence. By having a 3D lab on-site, models are created in a matter of hours, instead of the days or weeks, it can take if the lab were outside the hospital.

Dr. Wilson King, a SLUCare Cardiologist at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, oversees the 3D lab. Families of children with serious heart defects can hold a plastic model of their child’s heart in their hands.

“The smallest 3D prints that we’ve done have been in patients as young as six hours old,” he said.

The 3D center makes replicas of kids’ hearts to help surgeons better understand heart complexities prior to surgery. 

“Trying to understand the scale and the challenges that the surgeons ultimately have to be operating on you know a heart that’s as small as a strawberry”, said Dr. King.  Doctors can even practice surgery on 3D models prior to having the patient in the OR and make custom instruments specifically designed for that child’s heart.  “Having that model really gives our surgeons and our interventional cardiologists a very good idea of what they’re going to be expecting and how to plan for these complex repairs.”

Dr. King says 3D printing technology allows patients to have better outcomes because of the precision the model provides prior to surgery, as well as quicker recovery. 

The added benefit of using surgical-grade material is that models can be sterilized and taken into the operating room, where surgeons can take continual measurements during surgery, ensuring even greater accuracy.

3D modeling is also being used to educate the next generation of physicians at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon. In addition to the medical, surgical, and educational applications, doctors use 3D models to explain procedures to anxious parents, giving them a clearer picture of their child’s condition and the surgeon’s plan for addressing the issue. In times of stress and uncertainty for parents, the use of 3D models has the ability to set their minds at ease.

“We feel that 3D printing technology has really been helpful in helping us achieve the best surgical outcomes for our patients,” King said.

To learn more about SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital 3D Center of Excellence, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs Wednesdays on News 11 at 7 p.m. and FOX 2 News at 9 p.m.

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