Think back to the first time you used SOLIDWORKS.
Think: What year was it? What was going on in your life? And why did you begin using it?
For some of us, it was in college – or even earlier. Some of us began using it upon getting a new job, or, perhaps, when our existing companies chose to begin bringing our designs to life in a different way.
Mechanical designers and engineers love SOLIDWORKS. This is true – and it has been true for many years, but as time has gone on, the bucket of ‘SOLIDWORKS users’ has both filled and widened.
A couple weeks back, I caught up with a user named Dr. Mac Quantz. Mac is a cardiovascular surgeon in Ontario who found himself using SOLIDWORKS in an attempt to help solve longstanding problems related to practicing cardiovascular surgical procedures.
Think: How does one practice surgery on the heart?
When I want to practice my jump shot, I take my basketball down to the park, and I shoot ‘x’ amount of shots from a certain area of focus. I remain mindful of my bio-mechanics as I move through the shot.
To achieve success (in other words: to keep the ball going through the hoop!), I must continue to focus on ensuring all parts of my body related to this success – my stance, my arms, my legs, and much more – consistently fire in unison in one fluid, intentional motion.
I can shoot as many times as I want, practically, on any given day.
Compare that to the prospect of ‘practicing’ cardiovascular surgery.
First, if I’m only practicing on living humans (for example), the stakes are higher. Ridiculously higher. If I miss a jump shot, I know I’ll probably have another shot I can take soon after. No big deal. If you mess up during actual heart surgery, we all know the potential consequences.
Mac cited former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz in saying: “Failure is not an option.”
He added: “Operating times are decreasing as we go along. Today, patients are more concerned with who is doing their operations. Scrutiny in cardiac surgery is staggering.”
You must be thinking: there’s no way cardiovascular surgeons only practice on the hearts of humans who require surgery that very moment. You’re correct. For starters, there’s lots of study involved, of course. And you can even watch other surgeons as a means of gaining visual repetitions.
But think back to my jump shot. I’ve watched Steph Curry drain more three pointers than I can count. Has that made me a better shooter? The answer: no.
When I spoke with Mac, he recounted the story of a well-respected doctor who had watched Mac perform a particular procedure many times. When it came time for this doctor to do the procedure himself – with his own hands – the doctor froze.
Mac had asked this doctor to come over and assist with the surgery. “He was just struggling to get it done. I said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s going on?’”
This particular doctor replied: “I’ve watched you do this a hundred times from the other side of the table. When you get over here and actually start to do it, it’s completely different. I’m completely lost; I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
Mac clarified: “I knew the guy was good. It wasn’t an issue of competency. It was just a different orientation. It was something he hadn’t done previously. So I thought: ‘This would be a great model for surgical simulation.’”
Over the years, there have been many methods of physical practice put into place – such as practicing mitral valve procedures on pig hearts. So yes, surgeons don’t entirely rely on knowledge acquired from textbooks, lectures, and watching others!
Operating on pig hearts, for example, isn’t as biologically costly (or nearly as risky, naturally) as practicing on living humans. And yet, methods like these remain wasteful and limiting.
What you see below is an example of one of the surgical simulation devices Mac made in SOLIDWORKS to help solve the issues of biological risk/waste, as well as the issue of portability when practicing.
“Tools like these can be used to train someone on a new technique; they can also be used for evaluation tools,” Mac offered.
With pig hearts, one must not only procure the heart, but spend time in a lab setting whenever they wish to practice. With Mac’s approach to surgical simulations, one can safely practice as many times as they wish, and they can practice at home, in their apartments, etc.
Learning SOLIDWORKS has had several perks for Mac and the medical professionals who know him. Once his colleagues learned of his design skills, they started to come to him with more and more ideas of how they could leverage his surgeon/designer brain to make practice-ready prototypes of their own.
“I made something for my urology guys recently. He called me on a Thursday, and, within a week, I had something delivered on his desk. I went from concept, to mockup, to SOLIDWORKS, to a plastic part. Then, we were onto approval to make molds.”
Mac’s story is a unique one among many unique stories that exist within our community. Many of our users are trained mechanical designers and engineers. Some are makers, some are inventors, some are heart surgeons – and some, like Mac, are all three!
So why does Mac continue to branch out and make new apparatuses for medical professionals – even those outside of his core discipline?
“I enjoy people; it’s not for the money. These models can teach people skills outside the operating room so they don’t have to learn on us.”
Do you have an idea for a medical device you’d like to have made? Feel free to check in with Mac on his LinkedIn. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you!