The Heart of the Matter

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The Heart of the Matter

3-piece heart model

Tim Gornet and his team (University of Louisville Rapid Prototyping Center) made news recently when they provided surgeons with a 3D heart model for pre-surgery planning on 14-month old patient. Videos and news reports described the medical breakthroughs, but it’s the technology story that captured our attention.

The idea for the heart model unfolded in a conversation between Pediatric Radiologist Dr. Phillip Dydynski (Kosair Children’s Hospital) and Tim Gornet, Director of the Rapid Prototyping Center (University of Louisville). Would the detailed model help surgeons plan the delicate surgery? Could it be constructed in time? Tim Gornet dove into the challenge and began his testing. He was able to print the relatively simple left and right sections, but then hit a huge roadblock constructing the large complex center cavity.

Tim Gornet builds the 3-part heart model

Tim described, “I ran my standard software for 8 hours and couldn’t get it to generate a Gcode file for the center section. I was in panic mode. I got online and read about Simplify3D Software having a fast slicing engine and intelligent support structures, and I needed both – quickly. I purchased the software late on a Thursday night. After installing the software and importing the files;  it took just 5 minutes to slice the model that had taken hours in the other software.” Bolstered with his breakthrough but “still in panic mode with less than a day left”, Tim forged ahead. “I edited all the parameters and started the print, and it printed successfully on the first attempt!”

Early on a Saturday morning, less than 48 hours after importing the complex center section into Simplify3D Software, Tim drove to the hospital and delivered the 3D heart model to the pre-surgery planning team. And perhaps Tim breathed a deep sigh of relief. Surgery was performed successfully on Feb. 10, the heart video went viral, and the 14-month old boy was discharged, sweetly, on Valentine’s Day.

The use of 3D models in medical applications is likely to explode exponentially in the near future. As Tim conveyed to us, the CT and MRI images “are still just pictures on a monitor, but when doctors can hold a 3D model in their hands, it’s a real game-changer!” Tim has been involved in Additive Manufacturing since 1988, yet he is still on the leading edge of technology and innovation. He says, “I consider myself a lucky geek.” Geek? Probably. Lucky? We hardly think so!

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