SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - When it comes to saving lives, technology plays a huge role and San Diego is on the cutting edge. Rady Children's Hospital has a unique program using 3-D printing technology to make a replica of a patient's heart.

Rady Children's Hospital conducts approximately 600 heart surgeries a year. They were the first hospital in San Diego to start a 3-D heart printing program. It began in 2015, all because of little boy named Lincoln Matthews.
At first glance, Lincoln appears to be your average five-year-old boy. He loves sports.
"Basketball, but my second is soccer,” said Lincoln.
But the reality is, Lincoln was born with a heart defect. One in every 100 babies are born with a heart defect.
At four-days-old, he had his first surgery at Rady Children's Hospital. Since then, he's had two others, as well as a pacemaker implant.
His last surgery was in 2015 and it was also the most complicated.

Concerned, Lincoln's mom did some research. She found out about the benefits of 3-D printed heart models, so she asked his surgeon Dr. John Lamberti to make him one.

"Turned out we could do it right in our neighborhood. San Diego has incredible biotech industry and there were multiple sites we could get something like this done,” said Dr. Lamberti.

Since then, Rady's has had 30 heart models printed. Using this technology, a physician can go from evaluating an image of a patient's heart on a screen to holding a lifelike model of it. Doing so allows doctors to better plan surgeries - even simulating them beforehand. The models are also used to educate patients about their condition. The models are made from different materials and can cost from $200 to $1,000.
"Very helpful and the more complicated the cardiovascular anatomy, the more helpful it is,” said Lincoln's cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Davis.

Making a model of a heart, according to Dr. Sanjeet Hegde, is a four step process, starting with the initial scan a 3-D computer image is created, emailed to a 3-D printing company and then made.
Currently, there are only a handful of children's hospitals nationwide using this technology and insurance doesn't cover the procedures. Dr. John Nigro, Director of Cardiac Surgery, believes that will eventually change, saying the models help doctors get through surgery more quickly ultimately cutting down on recovery time and cost.
"We think that every major center should have this resource available,” said Dr. Nigro. "The more we know, the better off we are at treating the condition."
For now, the program relies on donations. As for Lincoln's family, they're forever grateful. Not just for him, but for the dozens of children his experience and his mom's tenacity have been able to help along the way.
The hope is that Rady Children's Hospital will have its own printers so they can make these on site.