In 2012, a Welsh man, then 27, suffered a serious motorbike accident. Stephen Power was wearing a helmet, but still sustained serious facial injuries as parts of his skull were shattered. The top of his skull was fractured, and his upper jaw, nose, and both cheekbones were also broken. Power remembers nothing of the accident. He remembers five minutes before the crash, and then nothing until waking months later in hospital. Once basically healed, the accident victim felt he had to walk around town in a hat and scarf and wearing sunglasses, until doctors conceived of using 3D printing to fix his face.
3D printing has been used in isolated cases to repair single, and likely fairly simple, congenital deformities. However this is the first time it is thought that the new technology has been used at every step of the way in a custom-procedure for a trauma patient. The technology aided doctors in creating models to fashioning a new bone and facial implants. The surgery was planned over a period of several months and took eight hours to complete.
During his first hospital stay, Stephen Power had to have bones in his face re-broken to set them again, as is often the case with fractures. Still, things healed in a lopsided fashion—again, not uncommon. What doctors did this time around is plan from the initial stage of modelling Power’s skull using CT scan results and then fashioning an inorganic skull with the use of 3D printing, to then constructing a new, custom jawbone made out of a medical-grade titanium. The jawbone was also printed on a 3D printer, in Belgium. Finally, with the model skull and new titanium jawbone customized to the accident victim’s very specifications, surgeons could better fix his face with remodeling, creating implants with 3D printing that were the very exact measurements needed.
It was necessary to again re-break both his cheekbones, but this time surgeons had the new jaw to better hold the shape of his face, and not just that, but they could make it close to the shape it was before the bike crash. The accident victim says he noticed the difference immediately upon waking after the surgery, and that 3D printing did not just fix his face, but may have fixed his life. He no longer will need to wear all of the accessories he has become accustomed to just to take a walk.
Doctors at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales, where Powers had his surgery say that 3D printing removed some of the guesswork from this type of surgery. Adrian Sugar, one of Power’s surgeons, said that the entire medical community is beginning to think along these lines, because of the ability to be so much more precise in each individual case.
The pioneering surgery shows that 3D printing is a boon to the victims of birth or accident, as faces and more can be fixed using the new technology. Stephen Power, a father, says his face post-surgery is much closer to the shape it was before the accident, and that this experience has been life-changing. The London Science Museum is featuring an exhibition of the surgery entitled, “3D Printing: The Future.”
By Julie Mahfood
Follow Julie Mahfood on Twitter @Julie11153717