To be a good surgeon also requires excellent communication with families. That shared medical decision-making is vital. You’re trying to understand the value system of the family and what you can offer to improve their quality and quantity of life. To fully understand that and commit to that, you have to be able to communicate complex concepts. That’s where 3D printing also has added value.
Kaalan Johnson, MD, director of Seattle Children’s Aerodigestive Program
3D printing is revolutionizing the medical industry in the offering of unique presurgical planning and new training capabilities for medical students.
A good example can be found at Seattle Children’s Hospital where they are printing 3D medical models with a Digital Anatomy Printer to map out complex surgeries and practice intricate surgical techniques before ever entering the operating room.
One such case was an infant, Nia, brought to Seattle Children’s, who at only a few days old, was showing signs of labored breathing. A CT scan found that she had right bronchial stenosis, a rare etiology of respiratory distress in a neonate. The narrowing of her right bronchial tube was so severe she couldn’t breathe effectively, and her bronchus was only the size of a hair.
She was put under the care of Doctor Kaalan Johnson, who specializes in treating children who have complex upper airway breathing and swallowing problems.
After meeting with a team of specialists across disciplines and confirming the type of stenosis they were dealing with, a slide tracheoplasty was determined to be the best option.
As Nia’s case was unique where precision is imperative and the surgery being incredibly complex, Johnson and his team 3D printed each of the slide tracheoplasties ahead of time, so they had life-sized models of the infant’s airway to practice on and evaluate.
Before the surgery, Johnson and his team sat down with the family and reviewed every detail. They also printed a 3D model of the infant’s airway to show the surgical plan to repair the abnormality.
The night before the operation, the surgeons gathered in a conference room to review the surgery and its procedural complexities. They practiced making the incision on the tiny 3D models and everyone felt prepared for the big day — which went better than even anticipated.
“One day, [she] is going to have the most amazing item for show-and-tell,” Nia’s mother, Reem, said with a smile. “She’ll be able to hold up the [3D] model and show people exactly how far she’s come.”
The applications and opportunities of 3D printing are immeasurable according to Johnson, but the objective is always the same – to provide the best possible care.