When 47-year-old Ruth Smith-Leigh of South Boston, Virginia was told she would likely lose her leg after a devastating car accident damaged it seemingly beyond repair, she had no idea that 3D printing would not only save her leg, but would allow her to walk again.

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When Smith-Leigh was told by a doctor in Virginia that her leg was severely fractured and had also suffered serious bone loss, and that amputation was the only recourse, she balked. Rather than surrendering to that clearly irreversible outcome, she consulted with doctors at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, who offered her an alternative. Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Samuel Adams explained to Smith-Leigh that a 3D printed bone implant “scaffold” could be used to repair her leg. In fact, the scaffold, which is made from a biodegradable iron and manganese alloy, would actually help the bone repair itself as it would knit together around the new framework.

Ruth Smith-Leigh

Ruth Smith-Leigh

The 3D printed implants are superior to traditional methods of repairing bone such as grafting because they basically eliminate the risks of rejection that can occur when tissue is transplanted. The scaffolds, which are secured to parts of the bone where damage has occurred, degrade over time as the bone grows around them. This is because the 3D printed scaffolds are made from minerals — iron and manganese — that are integral to bone growth and repair and they are absorbed as nutrients, a remarkable process made possible by collaborative efforts in the fields of bio-engineering, orthopedic medicine, and additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

A 3D printed orthopedic scaffold like Smith-Leigh’s is created through the use of CAT scans, which identify damaged areas and allow technicians to model the reparative structures specific to a patient’s anatomy and injuries. CAT scans of Smith-Leigh’s leg were made and then sent to a company called 4WEB Medical, located in Frisco, Texas. 4WEB, founded in 2008, is an implant device manufacturer. Using the scans of her damaged leg, 4WEB produced the 3D printed iron-manganese bone scaffolding that has made it possible for le4Smith-Leigh to walk again.

“Her own bones will grow into her implant and it’s just as strong as her native bone, if not stronger,” Dr. Adams said. “It’s a scaffold. That bone will grow into a truss system, and through the center of truss system is a titanium rod.” He noted of Smith-Leigh that, “Her outlook is very good, I actually have a CT scan to show that her bone is growing into the implant.”

And the patient?

“I feel excellent. I actually returned back to work. I teach school and I’m very passionate about teaching,” Smith-Leigh said.

The accident was last February and today Smith-Leigh is walking with the help of a special ankle brace and a modified shoe. She was the first patient in the state of North Carolina to receive the 3D printed implant, although there have been a few other such recipients elsewhere in the US. While Smith-Leigh will never again have mobility in her ankle she enjoyed prior to the car accident, she is once again in excellent health and has resumed her rewarding work as a teacher.

Let us know your thoughts about this procedure, and 3D printed implants, over in the Woman’s Leg Saved by 3D Printed Implant forum thread at 3DPB.com.

[Source: WRAL.com]
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