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Plush doll with 3D printed heart helping children understand heart disease

In Communities that KARE, local doctors and designers showcase a new tool to educate children with congenital heart disease about their condition and treatment.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Time for Communities that KARE, a celebration of those around us making a difference.

We're shining a light on a collaboration between M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital and the University of Minnesota's Medical School and College of Design that's helping children with heart defects.

Congenital heart disease affects 40,000 children born in the U.S. each year. Gurumurthy Hiremath of the University of Minnesota's Medical School helps treat many of them. "Their strength teaches us how strong we've got to be in taking care of the patients. It takes a village, as they say."

The medical school has a new tool to help these kids learn about their condition. It's something Dr. Hiremath says is critical to their care. "It's important to involve them, keep them in the loop, and try to talk to them in a language that they understand." 

After extensive research, Amr El-Bokl, a cardiology fellow, and product design student Levi Skelton came up with "Octo," the plush octopus.

"We started with this one because a companion with a heart that is 3D printed to look like the child's heart. [It] is very easy to use as a tool both in [the] clinic and at home for parents," said El-Bokl. 

The designers also created an app that kids can monitor. "It takes blood pressure, you can listen to heart sounds, you can check their oxygen, and things like that," explained El-Bokl. 

Skelton also went into the emotional benefits. "It puts the child in the shoes of the doctor, and also sort of shows them some of the keywords that are probably big and scary for them like echocardiogram and all of those things." The goal is to use the cute toy to make the heart condition more relatable. 

"Octo" is just the beginning of this heart project. There's also a coloring book in the works that will be available at U of M clinics.

Credit: Samantha Montoya

And the U of M collaborated with performers at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater to create an educational musical. The hope is to get enough funding to have the story professionally recorded and posted on YouTube. 

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