Sep 17, 2015 | By Benedict

In 1996, the Spice Girls told us that ‘tonight is the night where two become one’, but one fortunate family have good reason to celebrate a night where one became two. Additive manufacturing is regularly used to save time, money and the environment, but relatively few people can claim to have had their lives saved by it. Tyler and Tyson Proctor, a pair of formerly conjoined twins whose life-saving operation was helped by the use of 3D-printed models, have celebrated their 1st birthday in the hospital in which they were operated upon.

Image from U.S. News

At birth, the twins were attached at their chests and bellies. They shared a liver, and Tyson needed heart surgery. The twins were separated when they were just two months old, and the operation took almost 12 hours. Now, the healthy one-year-olds are able to live life on their own terms and in their own directions, reconnecting only when playtime dictates. To celebrate the twins’ first birthdays, the whole family returned to the Children's National Health System in Washington where their lives were saved.

Present at the celebrations were the twins’ older siblings, their grandparents and their great-grandmother. The party featured a Dr. Seuss-inspired cake with "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" cakes for the twins. The family were joined by the doctors and nurses who performed the life-altering operation on the two boys.

3D printing played an important role in the surgery which saved the twins’ lives. Using data from a CT angiogram, Carolyn Cochenour, a research engineer with the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the Children’s National Medical Center, created and printed a 3D plastic replica of the twins' entire midsection to understand the exact physiological aspects with which she and the team were dealing, and to assess the challenges they would face during surgery. Furthermore, Cochenour was able to ‘LEGO-ize’ the model in order to further facilitate the process.

“That’s the term we’ve come up with to describe making pieces so you can fit them together, take them apart and take the organs out, separating them in multiple ways,” Cochenour explained last year. “This is a case where LEGO-izing really does help because you can see what you’re going to have once you separate the twins.”

Image from NBC

Traditional imaging techniques were not able to provide all the answers in the Proctors’ case. For example, doctors could not be certain where their gallbladders were in relation to the midline. The 3D rendering created an accurate model of the boys’ biliary systems, which allowed surgeons to accurately perform the risky operation. "When you are responsible for the lives of two infants," says surgeon Anthony Sandler, who led the operation at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, "you want a tangible, physical feel for the challenges to come."

One year later, the Proctors are thankful both to the medical staff at the Children’s National Health System and to the infinite possibilities of 3D printing technology. The twins' 78-year-old great-grandmother says that this kind of life-saving science wasn't available in the past. She calls the boys "Miracle babies".

"I didn't think they would make it," she said. "I was scared. And they made it, and it's awesome. It's really awesome."

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

 

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