A transfer to a major university hospital and a slew of tests later, Luke had four very different, extremely complex diagnoses. These described his congenital heart defect, a heart problem that’s present at birth. In short, Luke’s heart wasn’t functioning properly. Blood wasn’t coming in, traveling through, or exiting his heart in the ways that it should. When Luke was only 6 months old, he underwent major heart surgery at a medical center in Iowa. Surgeons told Justin and Jennifer that Luke would need a second surgery when he was a little older. As Luke approached age 3, his family returned to the hospital to discuss next steps. Concerns about the second procedure, such as the fact that Luke may need a heart transplant down the road, led Justin and Jennifer to seek a second opinion. That’s when they decided to visit Children’s Hospital of Illinois.
At Children’s Hospital, cardiologist Matthew Bramlet, MD, told Justin and Jennifer about a different kind of procedure that had the potential to substantially increase Luke’s life expectancy. Surgeons could reconstruct his heart so blood would flow in, through, and out of it like it would in a healthy heart. It would be risky, but Dr. Bramlet also told Luke’s parents about a cutting-edge technology at Children’s Hospital that would provide a model for surgeons to see how exactly they would get from one point inside Luke’s heart to another. This technology is called three dimensional printing.
“The three-dimensional printer used MRI images to create a three dimensional model of Luke’s actual heart,” Dr. Bramlet says. “Instead of just looking at the images of his echocardiogram and MRI, we could actually hold his heart in our hands. The three-dimensional printing allowed us to visualize and understand what the surgery would look like.” Randall Fortuna, MD, congenital cardiac surgeon at Children’s Hospital, agreed that the three-dimensional printing was invaluable. “Usually, the final decision on how to do a complex repair inside the heart can only be made at the time of surgery, when we’re looking at the heart,” Dr. Fortuna said. “But the information from the three-dimensional model gave us reassurance before surgery that we were likely to be successful.” The three-dimensional model also gave Luke’s parents peace of mind in making their decision to move forward with the procedure. In July 2013, Dr. Fortuna and his team performed the nearly 12-hour procedure. As predicted, it was a success. According to Luke's mother, he is now healthy and full of energy.
Helping Kids Thrive
According to Dr. Fortuna, the three dimensional equipment is an example of how Children’s Hospital continues to push the technological envelope to provide services to kids with the most complex needs. Dr. Bramlet agrees. “There are no documented cases in the world of using the three dimensional technology in the manner we used it for Luke’s surgery,” Dr. Bramlet says.