GR doctors use 3D technology to repair boy’s heart

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The effort that went into saving 11-year-old Trent Ahlefeld of Greenville was pure science fiction just a few years ago.

Virtual reality and 3D printing are not just innovations exciting techno geeks; they’re saving lives in Grand Rapids.

Trent was born with a bad heart. Instead of four chambers, it effectively had two. His heart was also backwards and on the wrong side of his chest, and it had a gaping hole.

Starting as a newborn, Trent had undergone numerous surgeries and his parents consulted experts nationwide. He needed a new heart and lung, but the possibility of a transplant was slim.

“At that point, they had only given him a year to live and it would take them two years to get the organs we need and he wouldn’t survive it,” said Megan Thompson, Trent’s mother.

His circumstances changed when doctors at the Congenital Heart Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital suggested a cutting-edge surgery that could repair Trent’s heart.

However, it was untested and risky. Thompson said she wasn’t ready to risk it after all she had witnessed. Then Trent weighed in.

“He said, ‘Yeah, I want to do it, of course I do,” Thompson recounted. “I already knew that was his answer, but he said it out loud, so…”

“Well, I knew it might help me, so I wanted to get better and do stuff with my friends,” Trent explained.

Using sonography, a 3D printer provided a complete model of Trent’s heart for surgeon Marcus Haw.

“All the colleagues and the patients even, can look at the heart and say, ‘Yes, I can see the hole, where it is,’ not just listening to me. (They can) say, ‘There’s a hole, there’s a problem,’” explained Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, co-director of the Congenital Heart Center.

In November, Trent went under the knife.

“I don’t think I would have had the courage to do this surgery unless I’d had this type of imagery,” said Dr. Marcus Haw, who worked on Trent.

Recently released from Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Trent came to see the people who saved his life Thursday. The doctors marveled at his progress and said his prognosis and future look bright.

Trent summed it up: “It was a good thing I chose yes.”

The majority of heart patients will never need the kind of technology used to help Trent, but having it in Grand Rapids will save lives and build on knowledge that can be used by other hospitals.

Meanwhile, Trent is back home with his three brothers and four dogs. He says he is deciding what sports he wants to try this summer when he is feeling better.

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