By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minneapolis woman is alive and well thanks to some creative thinking and a 3-D printer.

Karlie Gause never took a wedding photo. She hates cameras, but agreed to sit for ours.

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“I’m only doing this because I believe in the project,” Gause said.

At age 20, she had lymphoma. Heavy radiation attacked the cancer, but led to other problems.

Her doctor, Dr. Gregory Helmer, explains, “Radiation therapy damaged her valve and her aorta causing her severe calcifications in the aorta and because of that she needed a valve replacement.”

But because of the unique way her heart was damaged, open heart surgery was risky. Her doctor decided to go in through her leg but needed to know what her rare damaged aorta looked like. Dr. Helmer found help at the Visible Heart Lab at the U.

Professor Paul A. Iazzo oversees the lab.

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“He just ran down to the lab cause he knew we were doing this kind of thing and asked if we could help out,” Iazzo said.

Dr. Helmer found that help here at this heart lab at the U. Using images of Karlie’s heart, the team produced a replica so doctors could experiment with what equipment would work best.

The model helped prepare him for the procedure which turned out perfectly. The printer, he says, was key.

“It’s exciting and the future I think of medicine,” Helmer said.

A story Karlie lived to reluctantly tell.

“You can edit me completely out and I’d be fine with that,” she said.

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Such a good sport she was. The experts WCCO talked with say no matter the medical procedure – to be able to practice a procedure with a printed replica of someone’s exact anatomy before you open them up – that’s going to be a game changer.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield