A 3D model convinced a patient to have surgery — and showed his doctor a better way to proceed.

In 2017, feeling “lousy and in pain,” Bob Fedorowicz found himself at UPMC Williamsport’s Emergency Department (ED). A CT scan showed the problem was likely his gall bladder — but it also revealed a spot on his left kidney. The care team in the ED suggested Bob get it checked out.

“It took me a while to get around to seeing a specialist,” admits the Williamsport customer service professional. “By the time I got around to setting up an appointment a year later, it had grown. When I saw the scans, it was much larger than I expected it to be,” says Bob.

He was referred to urologist Christopher Reilly, MD, a specialist in robotic surgery at UPMC Williamsport. Although the mass was slow-growing and likely benign, Bob was warned it could become cancerous or create other problems.

“Dr. Reilly said my options were to remove both the tumor and my left kidney, or we could keep an eye on it with regular biopsies and scans,” says Bob, now 64.

Bob opted for watchful observation. Over a two-year period, he got regular CT scans and biopsies, and met several times with Dr. Reilly to review the scans. “I was very apprehensive about having surgery,” says Bob. “I just didn’t want to lose my kidney if I could avoid it.”

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Seeing Is Believing

In 2020, Dr. Reilly suggested making a life-size 3D model of Bob’s kidney — and it proved to be a game-changer. Using data from a patient’s CT scan or ultrasound images, a 3D printer generates an actual physical model. The model shows in detail the anatomy of the organ and the problem.

“Looking at Bob’s CT scans, as a doctor, I could see how big his tumor had become. But CT scans show images in single slices, so it’s often not easy for the patient to visualize and understand what I’m seeing.

“The 3D model can be a really powerful tool,” says Dr. Reilly. “When I showed it to Bob, his eyes opened up. He thought the tumor was about the size of a golf ball.”

“When I held the model in my hands, I could see it was the size of a handball”, says Bob. “I told Dr. Reilly right then to sign me up for surgery.”

In Bob’s case, the 3D model resulted in another important benefit. “Scans showed an 80% likelihood that Bob’s tumor was benign. But it had deeply penetrated into his kidney. “The standard of care when that happens is to remove the kidney,” says Dr. Reilly. “But when I saw the 3D model, I was pretty confident that I could save Bob’s kidney. It wouldn’t be an easy operation — but it meant Bob wouldn’t lose the kidney.”

Dr. Reilly has been with UPMC for 20 years and completed a fellowship in robotic surgery in 2012-13. When he learned that UPMC Imaging Services’ 3D Printing Program in Pittsburgh offered 3D models, “I was committed to utilizing this innovative tool to educate patients, while also helping me better visualize every move of an operation with greater precision.

“The 3D model showed the actual relationship of the tumor to the organ, plus the location of the urinary tract and blood vessels,” says Dr. Reilly. “With the model, I knew exactly where to find the tumor and the best way to approach Bob’s surgery. I was able to remove the tumor, reconstruct the kidney, and confirm it was benign without sacrificing the kidney.”

Great Outcomes

“I can’t express how grateful I am for Dr. Reilly, Amy McCorkel, PA-C, and the rest of the care team. They were so attentive and caring. After meeting them at my initial appointments, I was very confident that they would take good care of me.” says Bob. “Dr. Reilly did everything in his power to save my kidney and ultimately only needed to remove about half of it. Because of him, I feel great, and my left kidney is fully functioning.”

About Urology

The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. U.S. News & World Report ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside among the best hospitals in the country for urological care.

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