3-D Printed Heart Gives New Hope to Woman With 'Backwards' Heart

Kami Sutton has already undergone 19 heart surgeries.

— -- A 3-D printed heart has given new hope to a 26-year-old woman who was born with a “backwards” heart.

Kami Sutton, of Marysville, Washington, has already undergone 19 surgeries to help connect her heart to the rest of her body.

While surgeries and a pacemaker have helped keep Sutton alive, her heart has been weakened by constant stress and overexertion.

“My ventricles are beating out of sync,” she said. “We’re losing heart function, which is hard. ... It’s not as efficient as it could be if they were beating together.”

Seslar is now attempting hoping to use a bi-ventricular pacemaker that will help Sutton's ventricles beat at the same time. But the unusual shape and placement of Sutton’s heart remains a huge hurdle.

“Kami’s heart is truly one-of-a-kind,” Seslar said on the Seattle Children’s Hospital website. “Operating on her without understanding the anatomy of her heart better could be very dangerous.”

To help doctors plan out Sutton's surgery, Seslar created a specially designed 3-D model of Sutton's heart. It’s an idea she initially suggested to Seslar, who had already been working on similar models.

“His eyes got really wide,” Sutton remembered of the moment she asked if he could use a 3-D model of her heart. “When I suggested it, he got really excited.”

“Our first attempts produced stiff models that did not feel like human hearts,” Seslar said on the Seattle Children’s Hospital website. “This model is soft and wet like a real heart inside a person. ... We know ahead of time where to maneuver, it allows us to develop a game plan and potentially reduce the surgery time.”

“Technology caught up with me just in time and gave me another chance besides the big [transplant] surgery,” Sutton said of both this experience and her past surgeries.

Sutton is on the heart transplant list, but her previous surgeries means she needs a very particular kind of organ that will not be rejected by her immune system. However, she said if the pacemaker works she may not need the new heart.

Sutton expects to undergo surgery sometime this spring or summer and said even if it doesn’t work, the operation will help doctors learn more about treating other children with similar heart defects.

“In the future it won’t take 19 operations over 26 years to fix the condition I was born with,” she said.