New Tool for Helping Heart Surgery

Babies who get this surgery have a developmental disease where one of the chambers - or ventricles - of the heart fails to grow properly. This leaves their hearts unable to properly circulate blood through their lungs and starves their bodies of oxygen. The lack of oxygen turns their skin blue, a condition sometimes referred to as "blue baby syndrome" for that reason.

The Fontan surgery is one of three surgeries performed immediately after birth to replumb the circulation of children born missing their left ventricles. The operation essentially connects the veins that would normally bring blood into the right side of the heart with the pulmonary arteries. The aim is to redirect the blood flow so that it becomes properly oxygenated, allowing the patient to survive with only one functional pumping chamber. Before the advent of this type of surgery in the early 1970’s, these sorts of heart conditions were uniformly fatal.

There are still risks, including exercise intolerance, blood clot formation, and eventual heart failure requiring transplantation. Doctors mitigate this risk by carefully planning the surgery, starting with images of a baby's heart and then sketching out their plans. The researchers have been working to develop a new computational tool to assist in this process. In addition, they have developed a new Y-graft design for the Fontan surgery.

The tool first uses imaging data to construct a model of an individual baby's heart and then allows doctors to input their surgical designs. The computer can then systematically explore different potential designs using optimization algorithms, similar to those used in the aerospace industry for aircraft design. It then applies fluid dynamics to simulate the blood flow after reconstruction. This way, the researchers say, surgeons can test their plans and evaluate blood flow patterns before operating.

COMPAMED.de; Source: American Institute of Physics (AIP)