By Rich Wetzel
A recent example of how 3D printing is helping to save lives in the medical field comes in the form of Ethan Bradley, a nine-year-old boy from Grafton, Ohio. Thanks to highly skilled surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic, Bradley is now able to breathe freely again after suffering his entire life from Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare birth defect that involves the heart and other organs. In Bradley’s case, doctors said his heart had “two right sides” and no left, which resulted in serious breathing difficulties with oxygen levels rarely exceeding 55 percent, making him unable to participate in physical activities, including the simple task of walking around.
In August 2016, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic studied and practiced incisions on a 3D printed model of Bradley’s heart in order to lower the risk of complications during surgery. 3D printed jigs, models, and even end use parts are becoming increasingly popular within the medical community. Many successful cases have demonstrated the technology as a lifesaving tool for complicated procedures. 3D printed parts in the medical field have the ability to lower risks associated with surgery and increase patient turnover and recovery time.
Bradley only had a one to five percent chance to survive at birth due to his organs being arranged in the wrong place within his chest and abdomen. Remarkably, Bradley survived and underwent open heart surgery soon after birth and spent three months in the intensive care unit. Throughout his childhood, Bradley had many more surgeries which eventually took a psychological toll on the youngster. At just nine years old, Bradley was unable to participate in physical activities and felt out of place amongst his peers. It was at this time that his family decided to try a new type of surgery that would improve Bradley’s quality of life. After being referred to the Cleveland Clinic, surgeons began preparing for a procedure that would separate the atriums of his heart without affecting the lower heart chambers, and reroute the child’s blue blood to his lungs and his red blood to the aorta.
Dr. Hani Najm, chairman of pediatric and congenital heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, ordered a 3D printed model of Bradley’s heart so that he could study and mark down incisions. Dr. Najm noted, “The actual separation of his circulation on the inside is kind of novel – it is not common that we do this, but it is something that I was able to innovate. Because of the 3D printing, I was able to look at it, and sit in my office and decide what I needed to do.”
During the surgery, Bradley was dependent on a heart-lung machine as well as eleven staff members overseeing his care. Dr. Najm was able to prevent the organs from sticking to the child’s chest wall, and despite many possibly complications, the surgery turned out to be a huge success. It was such a drastic improvement to Bradley’s health that he was able to wean off his ventilator the next day and was home within a week. He was fully recovered five weeks later.
In a Fox News interview, Ethan’s mom Katrina Bradley told reporters, “It is absolutely incredible. We went from having this sick child who spent the majority of his day sitting on the couch or sleeping because he was just too tired or out of breath to do anything, and now he’s just running around the house excited.”
For the first time ever, Bradley is now experiencing oxygen levels around 95 percent. “It’s just a completely different kid,” his mother added. Bradley will likely need follow-up surgeries in the future, but thanks to 3D printing, doctors will know exactly how to prepare for a rare case like his.
Ethan Bradley is now exercising and has the goal of learning to ride a bike. After he masters the bicycle, he’ll test his skills on the basketball court to pursue dreams he never thought possible.
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