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3-D technology helps hospital with teen's heart defect

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Seventeen-year-old Ariana Smith of Taylor had better things to worry about when she learned in January she had a potentially fatal heart condition.

After ground-breaking heart surgery assisted by three-dimensional printing technology, the Truman High School senior is back to deciding which college to attend and focusing on her upcoming prom.

"It's really pretty, and I'm really excited," Ariana said Tuesday of the beaded two-piece cream colored number she will wear to her senior prom.

Jacqueline Foster, left, and her daughter Ariana Smith, 17, of Taylor, examine a 3-D silicone polymer model of Smith's aortic arch used to treat a complicated aneurysm in her heart at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Doctors at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan used an exact replica of the teenager's heart to better understand her complex heart defect and practice delicate surgery in advance of the girl's March 2 procedure. It's the first time in Michigan that 3-D printing has been used to facilitate a heart surgery, doctors said.

The 3-D printed heart model enabled doctors to treat the teenager's narrowed aorta and large, complex aortic aneurysm without a high-risk surgery that may have required temporarily stopping her heart, said Dr. Daniel Turner, a pediatric cardiologist and co-director of the catheterization labs at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Instead, as part of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved research study, DMC doctors used a stent covered with a special lining that could be used to correct both the aortic narrowing and the nearly golf ball-sized aneurysm, a bulge in the aortic wall that can cause it to rupture. The procedure was done in the cardiac catheterization lab and required just a one-night stay in the hospital for Ariana.

"Because her aorta and the narrowing were very complicated, it was difficult to image it without three dimensions," Turner said, noting the model was created by Materialise, a leading provider of 3-D printing software and services, based in Plymouth.

"Holding it in our hand and completely understanding the narrowing was very helpful," Turner said. "We actually used this model to do a practice run so we could plan the actual procedure based on real information, and so that the procedure could be done more safely."

Ariana's heart defect was discovered because her mother, Jacqueline Foster, 38, decided to have each of her four children undergo an echocardiogram, or EKG, which is a type of ultrasound test that picks up echoes of the sound waves as they bounce off the different parts of the heart.

Left: The model of Ariana Smith’s hear was created by Materialise, a leading provider of 3-D printing software and services, based in Plymouth.

Two of Foster's children, Ariana and 14-year-old Eric Smith, had been diagnosed with heart murmurs when they were younger. Foster decided to have all four of her kids get echocardiograms after a doctor doing a physical exam on Eric in January refused to sign the form until he was tested.

"When I heard 'aneurysm,' that wasn't too easy," Foster said of Ariana's results. "It's a scary word. I didn't know much about it, but I just knew that open heart surgery would be full of risks."

Ariana, an athletic girl on the high school volleyball team, said she was surprised by the results, because she had no symptoms of heart problems.

"I felt OK, I felt good," Ariana said. "When I played volleyball, I never had a problem with breathing, so I never thought I would have anything wrong.

"Who knows what would have happened if this never had been found?"