Tucson doctor using 3-D printer to help save lives

Published: Nov. 11, 2015 at 9:33 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2016 at 10:28 PM MST
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Model of a heart that you can hold in your hand. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Model of a heart that you can hold in your hand. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - 3-D printers are changing lives around the world, and in Tucson they are being used to save lives.

A Banner - University Medical Center physician is using a printer to train future doctors but, more importantly, he's using it to give his patients peace of mind.

Many people who have ever had a doctor show them their CT scan or MRI, might have had trouble wrapping their mind around it.

But imagine if the doctor could show them a model of their heart, something they could hold in their hand.

Laura Batt, 32, brought her husband and her young daughter to meet Banner-UMC Interventional Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Michael Seckeler, who used a 3-D printer to create a model of a portion of Batt's heart from her MRI.

"What I've been able to do is actually print a 3-D model of your arteries," Seckeler told the family as he handed Laura Batt a scale model of her pulmonary artery.

Batt has a congenital heart defect.

"I've had four open heart surgeries since I was born," she said.

She had never seen her pulmonary artery like this.

"I've heard so many stories how my heart looks and to actually have it in my hand to see a model was really neat." Batt said.

Seckeler said most of his patients have very complex diseases.

Holding models of their own hearts can really open their eyes.

"And I think if I can show someone and say you have two blood vessels and one is only 25 percent the size of the other -- we need to make that bigger, and they can actually hold it in their hand and see the difference, I think that makes a huge impact in their comfort level with the treatment plan," Seckeler said.

Plus, the doctor can work out a procedure on the model before going into the operating room.

However, this is only the beginning for 3-D printers in the doctor's office.

"Even further ahead to be able to try and come up with new techniques for treating patients and their heart defects. And again potentially testing them on the table first or even design new devices to treat some of these defects," Seckeler said.

He said the models can give both the doctor and his patient more confidence.

"I feel like when you know what's going on with your body, if you understand it, then you're able to be able to take care of yourself better and take care of your family as well," Batt said.

Other Tucson physicians are working on other uses for 3-D printers.

Seckeler is the first in Tucson to use a 3-D printer to make models to demonstrate congenital heart defects.

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