For what appears to be the first time in history doctors were able to use 3D printing technology during a facial reconstruction surgery to help a British man who survived a motorcycle accident but walked away traumatized and disfigured.
Stephen Power of Cardiff, Wales was hospitalized for four months after he endured multiple injuries in a 2012 accident. He was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash but still suffered gruesome injuries.
“I broke both cheek bones, top jaw, my nose and fractured my skull,” Power, 29, told Hywel Griffith of the BBC. “I can’t remember the accident – I remember five minutes before and then waking up in the hospital a few months later.”
Surgeons at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales used CT scans to recreate Power’s face and then print a symmetrical 3D model of his cranium. They then cut that mould down with cutting guides and printed plates to restructure his face.
The procedure lasted eight hours, culminating with medical-grade titanium implants set into his face to ensure that the bones remain in place.
Power said that before the surgery he would hide his face with help from a hat and glasses. That is no longer necessary, thanks to the surgeons and their willingness to try what could become a more common method of operation.
“It’s totally life changing,” Power said. “I could see the difference straight away the day I woke up from the surgery…I’ll be able to do day-to-day things, go and see people, walk in the street, even go to any public areas.”
Maxillofacial surgeon Adrian Sugar said in a statement that the results were unlike anything he’s encountered before.
“Without this advanced technology, it’s freehand. You have to guess where everything goes,” he said, as quoted by the AFP’s Guy Jackson. “The technology allows us to be far more precise and get a better result for the patient.”
The process of 3D printing includes manually entering geometric data into a computer and forming it into graphics, a process that has been compared to digital sculpting. The computer then scans the “sculpture” and forms a physical, three dimensional model of the desired piece.
Printers have already been used to design new technology that could be used in zero or low gravity situations in outer space. Last year, a US-based group made international headlines after announcing it planned to “[design a working plastic gun that could be downloaded and reproduced by anybody with a 3D printer,” as quoted by Forbes’ Andy Greenberg.