'The worst is over and their progress gives us reason to celebrate every single day,' the twins' mother said. 'The worst is over and their progress gives us reason to celebrate every single day,' the twins' mother said. 'The worst is over and their progress gives us reason to celebrate every single day,' the twins' mother said. (Photo: Facebook)

How 3D printing is helping surgeons

From separating conjoined twins to building new hearts for children, this burgeoning field is helping doctors across the world.

Twin brothers Jadon and Anias McDonald were born sharing 1.5 centimeters of brain tissue fused together. A normal life seemed far from a reality.

They endured four different operations, the most recent lasting 27 hours to separate the two of them. A mere two months after the life-altering surgery, the brothers were doing well enough to move out of the hospital. According to doctors, it marked one of the fastest such recoveries on record.

One of the reasons the surgery was such a success was thanks to 3D technology. U.S.-based Simbionix, which develops the technology at their R&D lab in Israel, played a crucial role in the McDonald's surgery. By printing 3D anatomical models that were specifically made with the boys' data in mind, doctors at New York's Children’s Hospital at Montefiore were able to practice the surgery before ever making their first incision. This was not the first time that Simbionix technology was used to help a little child. In 2015, their system helped a Washington University cardiology team replace a heart for a toddler.

3D printers are helping doctors with heart surgeries, in particular. Mia Gonzalez, a five-year-old from Miami, was born with a rare heart malformation called double aortic arch. Surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Florida were able to print an exact replica of her heart down to the smallest detail. They used technology from Stratasys, a firm that produces cutting-edge 3D printers from its manufacturing headquarters in Israel.

Another Stratasys printer helped surgeons in Buffalo cure a woman's brain aneurysm. More than just a visual aid, the replica also mimicked the feel of human tissue thanks to different rubber-like materials the printer is capable of generating. “By 3D printing models that mimic vascular feel, we can create an approach I don’t think is achievable any other way,” added Michael Springer, who was involved in the procedure.

Dr. Glenn Green of the University of Michigan used 3D printed models to help a pregnant mother with a complicated delivery. "We think this is a real game changer," he said. "You can hold the baby in your hand before you see them and get an exact feel for what they're like. You can discuss with other doctors and specialists and make plans while looking at exactly what we're going to be doing."

As for the formerly conjoined twins, Jadon and Anias are now on the road to recovery. Their lead surgeon, Dr. James Goodrich, attributes their remarkable recuperation to one thing: "Just good kids."

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