In the past, children born with a congenital deformity or who suffered a deformity after cancer or another illness had few options to fix these issues. Many prostheses are prohibitively expensive, as they are often considered to be ‘cosmetic’ by insurance companies and are therefore not covered. This puts parents in a difficult place, especially when the child will shortly grow out of expensive prostheses. In some cases, the necessary surgeries to fix the cosmetic issue were too risky. Thanks to new developments in medicine with the help of 3D printing technology, doctors are finding new solutions to address these cosmetic issues for children.
An Eye Solution for a Teenage Girl
Dr. David Tse, a professor of ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Florida, treated a young girl with eye cancer, who needed an exenteration and had both eyelids removed. Her family couldn’t afford a prosthesis, which ran between $10,000 and $15,000 when created by an ocularist. This patient’s situation prompted Dr. Tse to investigate the possibility of 3D printing to create less expensive prostheses for fast-growing children.
At the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology last October, Dr. Tse and other researchers announced the new method of manufacturing facial prostheses using topographical scanning. Doctors can scan the undamaged side of an individual’s face and create a 3D mirror image, then print a injection-molded rubber mask that matches the color and pigment of the patient’s skin. The new type of prosthesis can be produced in mere hours and the cost is a fraction of traditional prostheses. Dr. Tse hopes that this affordable technology will give more families the opportunity to provide their children with new prostheses as they grow.
Infant With Rare Defect Gets a New Face
Two-year old Violet Pietrok was born with a Tessier facial cleft, a defect that causes the bones in a baby’s face not to fuse properly. Her parents sought out Dr. Meara at the Boston Children’s Hospital. He was able to help Violet in a way never before possible, thanks to 3D-printed models of her skull that he used to practice and plan a complicated surgery. 3D printouts allowed Dr. Meara to view Violet’s skull at angles that were impossible with a simple picture, and practice various cuts and manipulations before attempting a surgery.Photo Credit
The ability to practice and plan with 3D models makes procedures shorter and improves the physician’s accuracy. This is pivotal when working with young and fragile patients such as Violet. With this improved surgical method, Dr. Meara was able to move Violet’s eyes closer together and create a more accurate facsimile of a face.
Ear Prosthesis Helps Young Boy With Physical Differences
Four-year-old Tai Medina was born with a rare condition called Microtia, causing him to be born without a compete right ear or ear canal. Although he can hear from his left ear, he has had to deal with the difficulties of looking different at school and trying to learn in a noisy environment with only half of normal hearing capabilities. In-the-Ear hearing aids don’t work for people with his condition, so his parents opted for a bone-conduction hearing aid instead. But Tai was already beginning to have difficulties with other children staring at his ear. Doctors gave the family an option for an implant, but the surgery would require removing his other ear. His parents also felt the surgery wasn’t an option because it carried risks that were too much for someone so young.Photo Credit
Using Tai’s left ear as a template, Dr. Tanner of the Huntsman Cancer Institute was able to create an identical prosthetic, and painted it to match his skin tone. Now he can use the bone-conduction hearing aid and the prosthetic together. The prosthetic will have to be replaced every two years, but luckily the technology is not prohibitively expensive.