Surgeons at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles say that three-dimensional printing technology can make surgery safer for children with congenital heart disease, and reduce the duration and number of invasive procedures required. Richard Kim, MD, a cardiac surgeon recently used a 3D printed heart model to plan a life-saving procedure for a young patient, Esther, born with a rare, life-threatening cardiac defect that required complex re-routing of the blood supply.

Since variation in normal anatomy is increased in hearts with congenital abnormalities, having an exact replica based on a patient’s scans in hand allows surgeons to strategize before entering the operating room. The 3D heart acts as a roadmap, and allows for a quicker surgery with less anesthesia needed.

In addition, the surgeons say, this knowledge will likely translate into a need for fewer followup surgeries, and allow children to spend less time recuperating in intensive care. Esther has made a rapid recovery and is expected to look forward to a life free of medical complications.