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Doctors using 3D printers to help babies with spina bifida who haven't even been born yet

Baby 3D print
Posted at 9:25 AM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 14:28:47-04

Doctors at a hospital in Orlando say 3D printing technology is helping them fix congenital disabilities in babies that haven't even been born yet.

The new technology allows doctors to print a life-size model of the fetus they plan to operate on, giving them a new way to plan ahead of surgery.

"This technology actually makes the surgery safer and more informative for the parents prior to surgery and helps me as a surgeon perform the surgery safer and be more effective and quicker," said Dr. Samer Elbabaa, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Orlando Health.

The new technology proved crucial for Jocelyn Rodriguez, who has wanted to have children since meeting her husband.

"Ever since the first day we started dating, we were talking about kids," Rodriguez said.

But 18 weeks into her pregnancy, Rodriguez was told her child would be born with spina bifida — a congenital condition where a baby's spine and spinal cord don't properly form.

"Neither one of us really knew what spina bifida was until we were diagnosed with it," Rodriguez said.

Doctors recommended that Rodriguez undergo a risky fetal in utero surgery to fix the condition.

Luckily, Elbabaa was able to use ultrasound images to 3D print a lifesize model of the yet-to-be-born baby, allowing him to visualize the defect and plan how to fix it.

After a successful surgery, Rodriguez is due at the end of June. She says doctors have already seen an improvement in her baby's health.

"She has been kicking, wiggling her toes, moving her ankles," she said. "She loves to have hiccups. I mean, just everything that we could have wished for has definitely happened."

Elbabaa hopes to expand the use of the technology for conditions of other congenital anomalies soon.