Being able to cover the daily news within the 3D printing space has enabled me to really appreciate all the good the technology really is responsible for. It has allowed many of us to start new careers, create amazing models, and one day may even be responsible for helping to manufacture our next car or build our next home. The applications that really get me excited, however, are the medical uses. Whether it be 3D printed prosthetic hands for under $50, the promise to one day eliminate organ donor lists through the advent of 3D printed body parts, or, in this recent case, to make one tiny 4-year-old boy feel like the rest of the children his age.

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Kai Sherwood was born with a medical condition known as microtia and atresia. These conditions unfortunately cause children to be born without one of their ears, or a tiny little nub in its place. Similar to the case of another 4-year-old we covered back in February, Kai’s case of “little ear” would impact his life.

Being an orphan from China, Kai was lucky in two ways. First of all, with the number of orphans in China, it was a small miracle that the Sherwood family spotted Kai, and after finding him in July 2013 decided to take a chance on a child who later in life may have health and cosmetic issues to deal with.

“He was found on the side of the road at what the doctors think was 2 days old,” said Hansi Sherwood, Kai’s mother. “He was going to be raised up in the orphanage and just age out of it if he wasn’t adopted.”

Kai and his mother

Kai and his mother

His second stroke of luck came thanks to the incredible technology present in a 3D Systems-manufactured 3D printer, the amazing doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.

“He is starting to notice he is different from everybody else and people are looking at him. ‘Why does his big brother’s glasses get to sit on his ears and he’s got to wear a band?'” Sherwood stated.

This was unacceptable to Kai’s parents, and they thus reached out for help. They worked with Paul Tanner, an anaplastologist at the Prosthetics Department of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City — the same man who worked with 4-year-old Tai Medina to get his new 3D printed prosthetic ear.

Doctors first took highly detailed 3D scans of Kai’s left ear. They then turned those scans into a 3D model which was an exact replica, in shape and size, of his good ear. Next it was time to print the ear out on a powder-based 3D printer that’s housed at the J. Willard Marriott Library. The final 3D print, made up of a binder material as well as a powder, had a similar consistency to plaster. Researchers then used this 3D printed ear as a mold to create a more realistic looking silicone version, and painted it to match Kai’s skin tone perfectly.k4

It was finally time to introduce the ear to Kai and attach it to his head with a special form of medical glue. Incredibly the ear is nearly impossible to recognize as silicone, and has provided Kai, who starts kindergarten in a few months, with lifelong self-assurance which he otherwise would have lacked, and just in time to start formal schooling. As Kai grows, new scans and 3D prints will be required as he outgrows this current ear, but he will no longer have to worry about the little things, like why he has to wear a band around his head to keep his glasses on, or why other children might point at him or laugh.

This is just another incredibly heartwarming application for this amazing technology. Let us know your thoughts on Kai’s story. Discuss in the 3D Printed Ear forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below of Kai’s story thanks to KSL News Utah.

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