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Students’ 3D-printed heart toys teach children about their congenital heart defects

Heart House toy design

Architecture students 3D printed “Heart House” — a toy set for patients at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital to teach them and their families about congenital heart defects.

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are among the most common birth defects today. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CHDs occur in approximately 40,000 births every year in the United States.

In order to help the affected children and their families understand their conditions better, FIU architecture student and Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Fellow Sophia Neves, along with volunteers from the FIU chapter of TOM Global, and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s (NCH) Child Life Specialists collaborated to develop and distribute 3D printed heart toys that were medically sound and fun!

Since Fall 2020, they’ve been perfecting the toy to educate the children and their families.

Using the 50-plus 3D printers in the School of Architecture Innovation Lab at FIU CARTA’s Miami Beach Urban Studios (MBUS), they created “Heart House” — a set featuring red and blue components that can be pulled apart and put together. The toys are mainly to be used as pre-school and elementary toys to model the functions of the actual human heart.

The sets are color-coordinated to show oxygenated and deoxygenated blood flowing throughout the heart, with “rooms” separated by “doors” representing heart valves. By inserting operable doors, the Child Life Specialist can explain how a particular CHD is affecting the child’s heart.

“Meeting and working with the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital team has been a very different yet rewarding design experience for me,” said architecture student and social media coordinator Kanisha Fowell. “Being an architecture student, we are always designing for people. However, this opportunity called for designing at a much smaller scale.

“Seeing the Nicklaus Team with Regine Duret, Elizabeth Fitzgibbons, and Maria Gabriela Maggi become animated when previewing the product is just a testament to the impact these heart houses will have. I am excited for the implementation of the product and to hear the different patient responses!”

Tikkun Olam Makers is an organization with chapters across the world focused on solving neglected real-world “challenges” of people living with disabilities, the elderly and the poor through technology, innovation and collaboration. Keeping in step with the organization’s goals of making these solutions available to everyone, the design files, and instructions to make heart houses are on the TOM: FIU website for free public download and use.



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