High-tech new 3-D Heart Lab at Cook Children’s to be a game-changer for surgeons

FORT WORTH -- You might have noticed 3D printers doing some big things lately, in more ways than one.

Today's example comes from Fort Worth, where Cook Children's Medical Center just opened their brand-new "3D aPPROaCH Lab."

"This lab was designed to enhance our ability to image patients who were born with congenital heart disease," said Dr. Steve Muyskens, the pediatric cardiologist who's in charge of the new 3-D lab. "We are both using virtual planning in a 3D viewer as well as a 3D printing technique to help us understand the complexities of those patients."

Hey, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes 2D heart scans just don't provide enough information to plan a successful surgery.

So these folks turn those 2D scans into 3D models. First, on the computer.

"The challenge to the surgeon when they go into the operating room is to figure out where all these small blood vessels are," said Dr. Muyskens, using 3D glasses and manipulating a computerized model of a patient's chest on the screen. "They can use this program now, so they can fully understand that anatomy."

Then, by printing out a 3D model, the surgeon can hold in their hands before the operation. Like the model the printed of the heart of one-year-old Ivy.

"She had essentially two different levels of complexity, and a heart that pointed the wrong direction, with one of the vessels that was non-usable," Dr. Muyskens said. "Trying to understand how to repair her heart really needed a full 3-dimensional understanding."

Ivy's surgery was a success, and she's expected to lead a normal life!

Talk about futuristic medicine. And it's something Dr. Muyskens and his team expect to use to save even more lives moving forward.

Said Muyskens: "Being able to take all of that information and put it in a truly 3-dimensional world and then change their care, and change their outcomes, I think, is the really exciting part."

Dr. Muyskens added that any increased cost incurred due to the 3D technology would not be covered under insurance, but said those costs would not be passed onto the patients. Instead, the hospital will cover the costs, because they believe it will lead to less time in the operating room and more successful outcomes for their patients.