3D printing the future of surgery for Houston Methodist

Seeing image without opening patient is direction of medicine, doctor says


HOUSTON – Surgeons used to rely on their imagination to plan a surgery. Now with the click of a mouse, they plan how to save your life before you go under the knife.

Less than two months ago, Linda Newell had open heart surgery and today she said she's tumor-free because her doctor planned the procedure using a 3D printer to make an image of her heart.

"He took all the tests and transferred it into his computer," she said. "That would give him an exact idea of what he was going to do before surgery."

It was Houston Methodist Dr. Michael Reardon who thought to put his imagination in his hands by printing Newell's scans.

"This really helps me plan, and then look my patients in the eye and say, 'Listen, you have a complex tumor, I've looked at it. I've thought about it. Oh, and by the way, I've actually built one and looked at it. Yes, I can get this done,'" Reardon said.

Reardon said this is the direction of medicine, seeing the image without opening the patient, which in Newell's case meant a less-invasive surgery.

"Without this I would've been guessing, and if I guessed wrong and I couldn't get it all, my options would be twofold: leave the tumor behind, which means that I would've had to subject her to another operation or in the midst of this big operation when I already have her on a heart/lung machine, already have her blood thin, say, 'Now I'm going to go ahead and open the abdomen and do this big operation in the abdomen,' that would have been very bad," Reardon said.

"Not only did he save my life I think, he's just one of the best doctors I've ever had as far as bedside manner, explaining what's going to happen, what could happen," Newell said.

The doctor said as time goes on, of course, technology will get better. He'd like to think that one day doctors could practice the procedure on 3D holographic images before ever opening anyone up.