It’s hard enough to be diagnosed with cancer as an adult, but for a child, it just seems incredibly unfair. When ten-year-old Casey Doyle was diagnosed with a rare form of throat cancer, his frustration and anger were understandable. The tumor was nearly as large as a golf ball, and, like any cancer, it completely took over his life, turning his normal childhood into one that suddenly consisted of hospitals, difficult treatments, and constant worry. Needing a way to direct his anger at the evil entity that had invaded his life, Casey gave the tumor a name: Boris.
Having cancer provokes a helpless feeling in patients; they (usually) can’t see the tumors that are making them ill, and are depending on others to treat or remove them. But Casey and his doctors found a way for the boy to unleash some of his frustration and feel like he had more power – by making a 3D printed replica of Boris that Casey could destroy himself.
3D printing has been extremely valuable in the treatment of cancer; by created 3D printed models of tumors, doctors can more closely study them and figure out the best course of treatment. 3D printed models have also been shown to reassure patients by giving them something concrete to see, hold, and better understand. Casey’s doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital went a step further. They 3D printed a replica of Boris, painted it, and even filled it with Rice Krispies and tapioca pudding to give it the nasty insides that a real tumor would have. Then they stepped aside and let Casey smash it to slimy bits with a mallet.
“That’s the biggest smile we’ve seen in months,” said Casey’s mother Marcia. “Seeing the tumor physically also gives him a serious sense of what he’s fighting, and why he needs to go through this treatment.”
A couple of weeks later, Casey bashed Boris again, this time in front of his classmates at George Long Elementary School. As he brought the mallet down on the 3D printed tumor, his classmates, wearing rubber bracelets with “Beat Boris” stamped on them, exploded into applause. Then they were given the opportunity to express their solidarity by smashing Boris themselves. Several 3D printed replicas had been made so that Casey’s friends could have a go at the tumor as well, which they did with vigor, bringing their mallets down forcefully to raucous cheers from their fellows. As Casey watched his classmates literally picking up weapons to fight alongside him, chanting “Casey beat Boris!”, a smile lit up his face.
Boris’ 3D printed duplicates were created by Drs. Kyle VanKoevering and Glenn Green, who were contacted by Casey’s nurse David Sadler after the boy expressed a wish to destroy his tumor with his own hands. Both doctors have worked extensively with 3D printing before; they were co-authors on a case study about using 3D printing to diagnose an abnormality in an unborn baby. Dr. Green has become well-known for inventing a 3D printed tracheal splint that has saved the lives of several babies suffering from tracheobronchomalacia.
“When we heard about Casey and his interest in smashing this tumor he had named Boris as a symbolic representation of his fight to conquer cancer, we wanted to help,” Dr. VanKoevering said. “It took us a little time and effort to build these models, but seeing the smile on Casey’s face when he got to pulverize that thing to smithereens made it all worth it. We believe 3-D printed models like this have the potential to be therapeutic for patients.”
In fact, while this was the first time the doctors had 3D printed a tumor specifically to be smashed, it won’t be the last. A donor, after hearing Casey’s story, provided enough money for the hospital to give 150 other children a chance to destroy their own 3D printed tumors. If you know a child with cancer who could benefit from beating the pulp out of his or her own tumor, you can nominate that child here.
As for the real Boris, he’s finally gone. In a 10-hour surgery, Casey’s doctors removed the tumor and then used skin, fat and muscle tissue from the child’s back to rebuild his throat. Within three weeks, he was able to speak and eat. There are still a few rounds of chemotherapy and radiation ahead, but Casey has a lot of people behind him cheering him on. Interestingly enough, Casey didn’t know the meaning of the name Boris when he chose it – it just popped into his head, but he later found out the Russian meaning:
Discuss this amazing story in the 3D Printed Tumor Gets Smashed forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: University of Michigan Health Blog]