Athmika’s mother was terrified when she first saw and held her newborn daughter. She could see her baby’s heart beating just below the skin of her chest as there was no bone covering the area.
Athmika was born with a rare birth defect called ‘congenital absence of sternum’ where the sternum (breastbone) which normally forms the protective covering over front of the chest, had not developed. Her heart and lungs were exposed to injury. Her parents were scared to even hold and feed her for fear of injuring her.
Doctors told them that this was a rare defect and treating it was almost ruled out. All that they could do was to take extreme care to avoid direct injury to her heart. Hopeless and dejected, the parents had resigned to their fate and they lived with the constant fear of losing their daughter.
A ray of hope emerged as the baby turned 8 months when they met a group of pediatric cardiologists at our Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. Among them was Dr. Mahesh Kappanayil (Professor Pediatric Cardiology, 3D Printing and Extended Reality (AR/VR) in Medicine,) who has pioneered the use of 3D printing technology for medical applications and helped establish India’s first in-hospital medical 3D-printing lab in India at our hospital.
On examining Athmika, the doctors decided to take an innovative approach in her treatment. They printed out a life-size model of the baby’s chest from her CT scan, using advanced 3D printing software and 3D printing machines within our hospital.
A multidisciplinary team led by senior plastic surgeon and professor Dr. Sundeep Vijayaraghavan, Dr. Brijesh PK (pediatric cardiac surgeon), Dr. Mahesh, and others, extensively discussed and planned the surgical repair that involved a complex reconstruction of the missing sternum by using a part of the baby’s own rib. The surgery was meticulously planned using the 3D printed model of the baby’s chest, simulating the exact steps of the procedure on the model.
Dr. Sundeep, assisted by Dr. Brijesh, and Dr. Praveen executed the difficult 7-hour-long surgery on 25th July. As planned, a part of Athmika’s 7th rib was used to reconstruct the missing bone of her chest.
Athmika has recovered well from the rare and difficult procedure and now looks normal. The bone used to recreate her sternum will grow with her, always keeping her heart safe within her chest. Her parents are no longer afraid to hold their baby and are praying for her to have a happy and healthy life in the future.