Seattle Children’s Hospital uses 3D printing to save lives

SEATTLE — Seattle Children’s Hospital is using innovative 3D printing technology to save lives. They can create a 3D model of a child’s organs and tissue to give the surgical team the chance to practice together before heading into the operating room.

Nia Mauesby’s parents credit Seattle Children’s and the innovative technology with saving Nia’s life.

She was born in January 2019, and her mother immediately noticed something different.

“Her color wasn’t the same as a well child, as our other children,” said Reem Mauesby, Nia’s mother. “It looked like she was more a bluish-purple color, and at that point we questioned, ‘Is she OK?’”

She was checked out and sent home from the hospital, but Reem Mauesby is a pediatric ICU nurse and had worked at Seattle Children’s. She called a doctor she knew, described Nia’s labored breathing and she even sent him a video. The doctor told Reem to bring Nia to the ER right away.

At Seattle Children’s, doctors quickly identified a problem with her airway. The newborn had right bronchial stenosis, a condition where the right bronchus (breathing passage) that leads to the lung is very narrow.

They trusted pediatric otolaryngologist, Dr. Kaalan Johnson to fix it.

“When you’re doing something like we did for Nia, which is a slide tracheoplasty, the first move, once you get to the airway, is to transect that narrowed portion. That’s a step you can’t walk back from so you really have to be precise about how that is placed,” explained Johnson.

He knew a 3D model would help his team prepare for the surgery and help Nia’s family understand the plan.

He teamed up with Seth Friedman, the manager of innovation imaging and simulation modeling at Seattle Children’s. Together, they created a 3D model of Nia’s airway.

“There is something different for the surgeon to work on the scale they are that they’ll be repairing,” said Friedman.

The model is made of materials that mimic actual tissue. The surgical team practiced on the model before performing the surgery.

“Actually making the incisions and performing the surgery on this model, and it results in an airway that’s much bigger, shorter, but much more functional for the patient.” said Johnson. “We’re that much more prepared for the procedure.”

The 3D model helped Nia’s parents have a clear understanding of the problem and how they would fix it.

“This is a true-size image and not just an image, but something you can hold in your hand to scope and see what was happening,” said Timothy Mauesby, Nia’s father.

When it was time to visit Nia after the surgery, knowing she’d be surrounded by tubes and machines, Reem warned her family.

“I was trying to prepare my family so when they saw her they weren’t so scared. But when I saw her I was like, ‘Oh my God, she looks so beautiful.’ It seemed to me literally, life was blown into her body, like she was pink, she was pink.” explained Reem Mauesby.

For the first time, she was getting enough oxygen into her little lungs. Her mom carries the 3D model of Nia’s airway in her purse to explain what she’s been through.

“It could literally be the difference between life and death for our daughter,” said Timothy Mauesby. “If it wasn’t for that model, Seattle Children’s being able to print that model, Nia might not be here. They saved her life.”

“For other children to have that same opportunity she did is amazing,” said Reem Mauesby.

Friedman and Johnson work closely to find medical cases that can be helped by 3D printing. They are eager to see it give them a chance to prepare for even more delicate surgeries.

“I just feel really humbled to be a part of this process and I also really am continually trying to make it better. Can we do something that will be more impactful on the next case?” said Friedman.

For Nia’s second birthday, Friedman created another 3D model, this one a unicorn. He’d heard that was her party theme.

Nia, now 2 ½, can even say the word “unicorn.” Her mother says that’s what she is.

“She’s an absolute wonder,” said Tim Mauesby.

“She’s exceeded all expectations,” added Reem Mauesby.

She’s a unique and extraordinary little girl who isn’t having any trouble keeping up with her big brothers.