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Amazing 3D technology helps save baby's life

3D-printed heart saves baby’s life 01:31

Martha Perez was 6 months pregnant when doctors discovered her baby suffered from a rare and life-threatening heart defect. Perez said she was warned her daughter, Esther, may only live up to 10 minutes after being born.

"I was shocked," said a tearful Perez. "I was crying and crying."

Soon after Perez gave birth, doctors were able to temporarily reconstruct Esther's heart. Surgery to permanently repair the baby's flood blood flow, however, came just two months ago, in part, thanks to a life-size model that was created of Esther's heart.

A 3D printing and software company, Materialise, constructed the near replica using Esther's MRI scans. Richard Kim, a cardiac surgeon with Children's Hospital Los Angeles, then used the model as a guide to plan the necessary repairs to Esther's heart.

"There's nothing like being able to touch and feel what you're going to operate," Kim told CBS News. "Looking at the model, I know, for instance, the size of the patch I need to make. I know there are parts of the heart I need to remove or cut away, and they're readily apparent."

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Esther Perez CBS News

Kim said this new 3D technology allows doctors to practice and perfect procedures before surgery, while also reducing the amount of time a patient would need to be on the operating table. "Which includes putting the child on life support, opening the chest, and arresting, or stopping the heart, and then looking inside and making a decision," Kim said. "Your thought process changes when you're doing the operation from deciding if you're going to be able to do something, to actually performing the operation."

Kim said the models can also cut down on the number of procedures a child will need. When asked whether he believes using the models can make surgery safer, Kim replied, "Yes. No question."

After surgery, Esther is now expected to live a long, healthy life without any medical complications.

"I don't have words," Perez said while crying. "When my tears come out, it's not because I'm afraid, it's because I am joyful. I am so glad she's alive... That technology that they used is amazing."

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