It was a problem that Pedro del Nido felt compelled to solve. Del Nido, the William Ladd Professor of Child Surgery at HMS and Children's Hospital Boston, knew that performing heart surgery on an infant meant he had to stop the heart. But stilling this organ is a long, invasive procedure that leaves an infant vulnerable to life-threatening complications. So del Nido built tools that would allow cardiac surgeons to operate on tiny hearts while they are beating.
For one of these tools, del Nido used video-game technology to develop an ultrasound imaging system that produces three-dimensional holograms showing the structures inside the beating heart. Another tool, which is being developed with visiting professor Pierre DuPont, is a 3-millimeter–sized device that can enter a heart through the merest whisper of an incision and respond to a joystick control, allowing a surgeon to explore the heart's chambers and to remove blockages, repair faulty valves, and close leaks—all in real time. A third device, called a cardioport, lets surgeons safely introduce instruments into cardiac chambers without worrying about causing blood loss or air embolisms.
Tests in animal models have shown that the imaging system so enhances the surgeon's view of the heart's interior that durations of surgeries can be reduced by nearly half, which could translate to less stress on little hearts.