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How a 3-D Model Turned Life Around for One Young Boy

Photos: Courtesy of Bella Mi and the Bradley Family

At 20 weeks pregnant, Katrina Bradley, of Grafton, Ohio, found out her growing baby boy had a heart defect. “He wasn’t given a good prognosis,” she recalls. Despite the odds, she gave birth to a fighter named Ethan on August 2, 2007. Ethan was born with Heterotaxy syndrome, a rare defect that affects heart function and oxygenation levels. At one month old, he underwent open heart surgery and spent his first 90 days of life in the pediatric intensive care unit.

A rocky start

A few weeks after heading home from the hospital, Ethan went into heart failure again. He endured another heart surgery, and, although the surgery went well, Ethan’s oxygen levels continued to drop. “He’d have to go to school with an oxygen backpack,” said Katrina. “He was continually falling asleep and he couldn’t do activities for more than a minute or two.” At this point, Ethan’s team of cardiologists knew they needed to find a better solution to help improve his quality of life.

“I watched Ethan struggle over the last three years, with an almost intolerable degree of limitation, as we struggled to find the best and safest approach to make him better,” said pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Kenneth Zahka.

A novel solution

The best and safest approach was developed with help from a 3-D printed model of Ethan’s heart. Although it was decided that Ethan would undergo his third heart surgery in August of 2016, this surgery wasn’t a clear-cut case due to the complexity of his heart. To help aid the surgery, Ethan’s care team created a 3-D printed model of his current heart. The team had a few uncertainties about dividing his heart into four chambers that would stream the red blood to the aorta, but creating a 3-D replica of his heart and looking at the inside structures gave the doctors more confidence that their plan could be achieved.

Surgery was executed as planned, and Ethan is doing better than ever. He came into the operating room with an oxygen saturation of 55 percent and left the operating room with a saturation of 95 percent (normal is 95 to 100 percent) — a dramatic change from the first nine years of his life.

Ethan’s family cannot wait to see what the future holds for him, and this inspiring little guy is excited to finally feel like a normal 9-year-old. “Ethan is planning a lot of things — he wants to play basketball and ride a bike,” said Katrina. “These are things he never had the energy to do before. It makes me so happy to know he can now live life the way he should be able to.”

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