It seems like there’s another medical breakthrough using 3D printing almost every week. We’ve seen sternums rebuilt with this technology, and prosthetics developed that offer lower costs and greater utility.
Now, a woman in Virginia has been able to prevent having her leg amputated thanks to a 3D printed bone implant. It’s just one more way that 3D printing is helping us live healthier, happier lives.
A Closer Look at the Implant Procedure
When Ruth Smith-Leigh was involved in a serious car wreck, doctors initially thought she would have to have her leg amputated. Her injury was that bad – reconstruction techniques simply weren’t enough to save it.
She was partially crushed in a head-on collision on her way back from a child’s birthday party (her two young sons were in the back, and were unharmed in the accident).
“Something was wrong with my leg, but I just thought it was a simple break,” she says of the moments right after the accident. Then her doctors told her that she’d need emergency surgery.
“The doctor actually told me that I had to have it amputated.” The bones were so mangled that they couldn’t be reset. She faced a life with a prosthetic.
Duke orthopedic surgeon Samuel Adams is a foot and ankle specialist as well as a pioneer in the realm of 3D printing as it applies to medical procedures. He recommended something radically different – creating a custom bone implant to support the bones in Smith’s leg.
“The machine 3D prints a titanium cage to replace the missing bone. It’s a scaffold.
That bone will grow into a trusts system, and through the center of the truss system is a titanium rod. Her own bones will grow into her implant and it’s just as strong as her native bone, if not stronger.”
The procedure was a huge success, although it took almost four months from the date of her accident for Smith to be wheeled into the operating room. The surgery was then followed by a full six weeks of rehabilitation to help her walk once more.
By the end of 2015, Smith was actually able to go back to her job, although there was still healing that had to be done.
“It’s the most awesome experience ever,” Smith reported. “I am able to wear a shoe with an ankle support. I can have a normal life. Considering the alternative, I’ll take that any day.”
Dr. Adams was also very enthusiastic about the results, as well as the application of this technology for other patients. “Before this, we didn’t have anything to replace a large defect. Now we have this technology.”