SPOKANE, Wash. – The innovative use of 3-D printing is helping local surgeons plan their approach to surgery, before it even happens.

The innovative surgery all began with a boy named Nate. Nate was born with a congenital heart defect. When his parents took him in, Dr. Carl Garabedian and other heart surgeons analyzed Nate’s condition and ultimately decided it was in the little boy’s best interest to use the innovative technology.

The 3-D technology is used to create a plastic or glass heart for surgeons to examine and plan the best approach before actually beginning surgery.

Dr. Garabedian said the process begins by taking a CT scan or MRI of the heart and sending the scans to a heart designer. According to Dr. Garabedian, the designer then creates the plastic or glass heart based on the scans. The heart can be customized to be softer or harder based on the needs of the surgeons.

Of course, the heart is not perfectly identical, but it does get pretty close. Close enough for surgeons to practice the best approach before heading into the operating room.

“This heart is a mock; you’re looking to make sure you can perform the operation correctly,” Dr. Garabedian said.

Dr. Garabedian said the technology consists of all benefit since doctors only need a CT or MRI to create the mock hearts and allows the surgeons a chance to make specific decisions on a surgery before the person is actually lying on the table.

“It [3-D technology] makes us do a better job and do more complex operations with a lower risk,” Dr. Garabedian said.

Nate, the patient, is doing well after a surgery that would have been much more complicated if the 3-D technology was not a resource. But, without a donation from the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, Nate’s parents would not have been able to afford the mock heart because 3-D technology is not covered by insurance.

“He’s a normal kid,” Dr. Garabedian said, “Its good not to see him that much because that means he’s doing well.”

Dr. Garabedian sees Nate every six months for routine check-ups on the boy’s heart. 3-D technology can be used to prep for a variety of different surgeries. As of right now, Dr. Garabedian said he has performed roughly between 8-15 surgeries using the innovative technology.

This week is Children Hospital’s week and Dr. Garabedian hopes people will continue to donate locally, for children like Nate, who need the Children’s Miracle Network to get the care they need.

For more on Nate and the technology, watch the video by CMN Hospitals below.