Case Studies Anatomical 3D model of a new-born baby’s heart

How a 3D model of a new-born baby’s heart helped deliver a perfect surgical outcome

Case Study
  • Cardiology
  • Pre-operative planning


A new-born baby girl on day one of life presented with an antenatal diagnosis of coronary artery fistula to the coronary sinus. On echocardiography, the anatomy of the fistula and of the left atrium (LA) was difficult to demonstrate because of the small size of the coronary vessels.

For clinicians, having fast access to detailed, reliable patient data is vital for success in the operating theater. Too often in complex cases, 2D imaging does not provide enough detail or insight to clinicians to give them full certainty of their approach in surgical plans.

In most cases, echocardiography, CT, and MRI imaging offers clinicians an acceptable level of insight to give them the confidence to make a decision and proceed with a surgery plan. However, for this particular case - and the other eight million complex cases that need to be operated on each year - a 2D scan doesn’t always cut it for planning surgery.

Therefore, a 3D printed model of the newborn’s heart was requested to give her surgeons a superior level of detail of the anatomical region ahead of treatment.


The 3D anatomical model gave the clinicians an enhanced insight of the left atrium by demonstrating the distortion by the fistula. The anatomical model also clearly showed the serpiginous course followed by the fistula. By having access to the anatomical model, the clinicians had a greater understanding of the mechanics of the fistula behind the indented left atrium, causing an obstruction to the mitral valve.

The 3D printed anatomical model was customized and split to the clinician’s specification, following spending time with the radiologist to understand the best plane to visualize the patient’s anatomy. By splitting the model precisely in the location as seen in the model above, clinicians were able to see and understand the mitral valve in much more detail. This level of insight would have been nearly impossible to visualize through 2D CT images alone.

By working closely to the clinician’s specification, Medical Visualization Engineers at Axial3D were able to produce a high-quality 3D printed model of the patient’s anatomy that worked perfectly with other tools in the operating theater. Upon receiving the 3D model, the clinicians reassessed their original surgical approach using the information that was now available to them, and created a new operating plan. The new plan, created with the information provided by the 3D model resulted in zero complications during the surgery and a perfect surgical result for the patient.

“3D printing is a transformative technology that is affecting key aspects of CHD care. As a planning and simulation tool, if offers the promise of more precise surgery with fewer complications. For training, 3D models can reduce the learning curve and increase opportunities for procedural practice.

The models can facilitate communication among multidisciplinary teams, thus potentially reducing medical errors. They can increase engagement of patients and families, thereby enhancing shared decision making. Finally, 3D models can lead to medical breakthroughs by enabling basic science, translational, and clinical investigations.”

– Abstract from 3D Printing is a Transformative Technology in Congenital Heart DiseaseUniversity of Washington School of Medicine

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