Nov 20, 2015 | By Kira

Two years ago, a tragic accident led to a five-year-old boy losing his left hand, and his parents nearly losing hope that their son would ever recover. That is, until specialists at Wuhan Third Hospital used 3D printing to create a functional prosthetic, letting him ride his bike, play with other kids, and giving his whole family a reason to smile.

In October 2013, three-year-old Xiaohu fell into a 1.5-meter fire pit while nobody was watching him. In a heroic rescue attempt, his own grandfather immediately jumped into the pit, burning his own legs as he lifted the child up to safety—but it was too late. By the time neighbors rushed him to the hospital, they found that his clothes had fused onto his skin, his left hand having taken the worst of it. The child suffered burns covering 45 per cent of his body, and in the end, his severely damaged left hand had to be amputated.

The family was left heartbroken, with both parents and the grandfather blaming themselves for the traumatic accident. With their son unable to laugh or play, it seemed as though none of the family members would be able to smile again—that is, until a phone call from the Wuhan Third Hospital burn rehabilitation center came in May.

Renowned burn expert Xie Weiguo proposed to Xiaohu’s family that they could take advantage of 3D printing technology in order to create a brand new, customized hand for their son, making him the first burn victim in China to receive a 3D printed hand. Not only would he allow him to grip objects again, but it would also dramatically restore his sense of confidence and, of course, his smile.

While we have heard and seen many heartwarming smiles of child amputees receiving 3D printed prosthetics, designing a prosthetic for a burn victim is a slightly different process. As Xie Weiguo explains, with conventional trauma patients or amputees, their wounds are relatively flat, so the prosthetic can rest on top. With burn victims, however, the limb is often covered with an uneven and delicate burn scar. The 3D printed prosthetic must therefore be specially designed with a wider space between the connecting parts so that the burn scar is not scratched during wrist motion.

After careful measurement and data input, the doctors used a desktop 3D printer to produce the parts for Xiaohu’s new hand. It is partially functional, allowing him to grip objects and even ride his bike, and they painted it in a skin-like colour so that he could blend in as much as possible with other kids his age. The doctors added that the hand was much cheaper to produce than traditional prosthetics, with easily replaceable parts. It also allows Xiaohu to maintain hand exercise to avoid muscle disuse atrophy.

However beyond the obvious physical and economic benefits of the 3D printed prosthetic, Hu Yiwen, the hospital’s mental health department deputy director, said that the greatest benefit for this child might just be on the inside: “To some degree, this 3D printed hand has more psychological meaning for preschool children, even greater than the physical rehabilitation,” he explained. Burns and amputations can lead to great distress for children as they grow up become more aware of disadvantages amongst their peers and society in general. With his new 3D printed hand, however, Xiaohu has the chance to feel and act more like himself again, allowing him to build a healthier psychology.

The same goes for his distraught family. As you can see in the heartwarming photos, his father, Liu Tao, was unable to hide a wide smile as he watched his son laughing and playing just like any other kid.

3D printing technology also led to another recent first in Chinese medical history, as a 10-year-old-boy underwent a successful 3D printing-assisted liver transplant in Shanghai, wherein his mother was the liver donor. When it comes to the health of their children, there is absolutely nothing a parent would not do. In both of these cases, 3D printing technology helped to see both their health and their hope fully restored.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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