Doctors 3D printing hearts to help them prepare for surgery

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- 3D printing continues to make advances with its technology. Now, it is helping doctors at Cardon Children's Medical Center be even more prepared, as they head to the operating room.

CT technologist Travis Mucha is working on a 3D print of a patient's heart at the Cardon Children's Medical Center. It all starts with a CT scan.

"After they're uploaded, we put them together, we color code them according to what anatomy they are," said Mucha.

The information is then sent to the printer, and after a few more steps, the process is complete, with a model of the patient's heart being ready to be viewed by doctors. The life-size model shows the exact structure and any type of defect.

"With the 3D imaging, it is very easy to see the exact location and the course of the coronary arteries, and if there are any variations," said Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Deepa Prasad.

Doctors can then perform a virtual surgery before the actual treatment.

"You can hold the heart in your hand and also examine every structure in detail, and also plan the surgery really well," said Dr. Prasad.

Dr. Prasad says the prints help doctors manage problems that may arise. She says the technology cuts down on time spent in the OR, and improves patient outcome.

"When the surgeon opens the heart, it's exactly going to look like this and the surgeon would have already planned how to do the repair," said Dr. Prasad.

The printer can create a heart from start to finish in less than a day. The doctor says this type of printing also makes it easier for parents to understand exactly what's wrong with their child's heart.