Nothing can be done to erase the trauma experienced by Blessing Makwera, a native of Zimbabwe whose life was changed irrevocably when a land mine exploded in his face when he was young. The explosion caused extensive damage to Makwera’s upper and lower jaws, teeth, tongue, and lips. Despite the pain and suffering and the stigma of disfigurement, Makwera regarded his circumstances in a positive way: he was grateful to be alive, to be surrounded by friends and family who loved him, and to enjoy things like soccer, which gave him pleasure. Prepared to go on with his life and adjust as much as possible, Makwera had no idea back then that 3D printing and the organization Operation of Hope would provide him quite literally with the opportunity to smile again.
Quite recently, Makwera had the good fortune to meet Jennifer Trubenbach, who had traveled to Zimbabwe on a surgical mission on behalf of Operation of Hope, of which she is the President and Executive Director. The non-profit organization, based in Lake Forest, California, provides, says its website, “life-changing surgical care, healthcare and medical training programs in under-served areas of the world through international collaboration among medical and non-medical volunteers” with the support of individual and corporate sponsors. Their website includes the poignant stories of people whom they have helped as well as information regarding how to donate and volunteer.
When Trubenbach met Makwera, she was deeply inspired by his positive outlook and offered to help him regain a higher quality of life via surgical reconstruction of his damaged face. Because his injuries were so extreme and “beyond the scope of her mission trip,” Trubenbach recruited volunteers from San Diego’s Sharp Memorial Hospital, including Dr. Joel Berger and James Chao, to assist in reconstructing Makwera’s face and jaw.
Dr. Berger, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, reviewed Makwera’s case and then reached out to 3D Systems (3DS) to help him devise a plan for proceeding with the complex reconstructive facial surgery the patient required. 3DS worked with Dr. Berger and Dr. Chao, a plastic surgeon, to prepare for Makwera’s “fibula free flap operation,” a procedure that, explained 3DS, requires “reconfiguring bone, tissue and vessels from the fibula to form and upper and lower jaw receiving blood supply from the neck.” It sounds intricate and complicated and it is, but 3DS’ Virtual Surgical Planning (VSP) program made it possible.
3DS’ VSP Reconstruction services in Colorado, facilitated by Mike Rensberger of 3DS, allowed the collaborative medical and surgical team transform CT scans of Makwera’s face into 3D anatomical data to be used for surgery visualization. With the data as a guide, the doctors and 3D experts could speak via conference call and map out the “surgical route.” Once the plan was made, 3DS 3D printed in a resin-based materials three anatomical models as well as tools for aiding the surgeons. The 3D printing material is specialized so that it has both the required mechanical properties and the potential to be “sterilized and cleared for use in the operating room.” 3DS also produced personalized tools to guide the surgeons as they worked.
Makwera’s surgery lasted for 12 hours but, for the optimistic and courageous young man, it was perhaps some of the most worthwhile hours spent in his life as he emerged with a jaw that, according to 3DS “looked and functioned like a normal one would.” A subsequent surgical procedure provided Makwera with jaw implants to support a dental prosthesis, restoring his smile and helping him to further leave behind once and for all that life-changing event, the land mine explosion. He is now a student at the College of Western Idaho. Having traveled so far both emotionally and physically, Makwera is thankful for the kindness of strangers, including Operation of Hope, the surgeons of Sharp Memorial Hospital, and 3DS. You can read more about Blessing Makwera’s amazing journey at Operation of Hope and more from 3DS’ case study.
Discuss yet another incredibly medical application for 3D Printing in the 3D Printed Facial Reconstruction forum thread on 3DPB.com.