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3D Model Gives Doctors a Better Look into Matters of the Heart

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Katie Cruz-Moreno was born with a heart unlike any other. In addition to having a hole in the organ, the 6-year-old from Fort Smith had heart valves that were shaped abnormally and pumping chambers located entirely in the wrong place.

This series of defects is rare and complex, offering extra challenges to physicians trying to improve the girl's heart. When it became obvious she needed surgery in 2015, the Heart Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital wanted a better way to understand what was happening in Katie's body before any procedures.

"You can't just move the ventricles in a patient like Katie, so her case really required us to come up with a creative approach," said one of her cardiologists, Renee Bornemeier, MD, also director of the Bale Fetal Heart Center at ACH. "Images of her heart were helpful but only provided so much insight."

The doctors at Arkansas Children's worked with a lab in Japan to develop a printed 3D model of Katie's heart before her corrective surgery. Katie would become the first patient at ACH to have this resource available.

The model allowed Katie's entire medical team to develop an in-depth understanding of the 6-year-old's heart and plan the best strategy for her repair. The physicians and surgeons could even see just how thick and enlarged the walls of her heart were as they worked with and touched the model.

"It gave us all a better appreciation of the size of her heart and the complex nature of her intracardiac anatomy," Bornemeier said. "These models are truly innovative. They bring a better, concise understanding of a child's anatomy to the entire medical team."

The result for Katie has been a healthier future. During a recent clinic visit with Dr. Bornemeier, her mother Patricia reported her daughter has experienced few side effects since the surgery. Katie is back to her old self, doting on her Hello Kitty dolls and immediately offering a shy smile to anyone who talks to her.

"So far, so good," Patricia said, as her daughter playfully hid near an exam table in clinic. "She's really a typical 6-year-old."

The family was pleased that ACH could give Katie the best corrective procedure possible by using the printed 3D model.

"We knew this was very delicate, very complex," Patricia said. "We were always willing to take whatever risks needed for her to get better."

While Katie's heart still doesn't function normally, it's made big improvements since her surgery. She is followed at the Fort Smith regional clinic by ACH cardiologists, and also seen every six months at Cardiology Clinic in Little Rock, while taking just a couple of medications.

ACH will continue to work with labs both in the U.S. and around the world to create similar models for children with rare cases as complex as Katie's, and the Heart Center hopes to acquire 3D printing capabilities on-site in the future.

"We see this as an additional imaging option to help us understand the complex, three-dimensional anatomy of kids with heart defects," Bornemeier said. "It can help us make the best choices for surgical management of these patients."

If you think your child could benefit from the care at the Heart Center at Arkansas Children's Hospital, ask your physician for a referral. They can connect with our team of experts who offer nationally recognized outcome rates by calling (501) 364-1479 or 1-800-249-3232.