"This can't really be real," Stephanie Starks said as she held a 3-D replica of her daughter Jemma's heart.

Jemma was born with half her heart, but surgeons at Phoenix Children's Hospital saved her life with a series of surgeries and the help of a one-of-a-kind piece of equipment, which takes MRI or CT scan images and turns them into a true-to-size, three dimensional model.

Arizona State University scientists and clinicians at the hospital developed the 3-D technology to help doctors treat critical congenital heart defects – the number one killer of infants.

"Nearly eight years ago now I had this crazy idea that we could take images of the heart and turn those into real physical three-dimensional models that can be used for surgical planning," said Dr. David Frakes, ASU associate professor in bio-medical engineering. "15 years ago if you asked experts in surgical planning what they wanted, they wanted better images, they wanted better pictures because it wasn't apparent that something like this was possible."

"It's personalized medicine on steroids because you have a 3-D model of the child's actual size heart with all the subtle abnormalities that are wrong with the heart," said Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Pophal.

Now, even before surgery, doctors can know exactly what they're treating.

"Having the models beforehand allows us to analyze and really set a pathway for the surgery," said Dr. John Nigro, cardiac surgeon with Phoenix Children's Hospital. "It really helps us in terms of the expediency of the operation."

"Knowing he was able to look at this before he went into operate changes everything for me, it instills a lot more confidence in the process, he's not going to open her up and find a major surprise," Starks said. "He knows what he's looking at, he knows what he's going to do."

Having the 3-D models to start with, also leads to surgeons spending less time in the operating room and fewer complications.

"There's no limits to this technology," Pophal said. "We're getting more detailed information, that detailed information will allow for us to make better, precise decisions, better therapies but more importantly maybe prevention of congenital heart disease all together."

Heart models are just the beginning. The creators are working on using this 3-D technology on other organs.

You can support the scientists' research and development of this new 3-D technology by clicking here.