Nov 28, 2016 | By Benedict

Thanks to a 3D printed titanium leg implant made by Texas company 4WEB, Queensland resident Callum Harewood has been able to continue his active surfer lifestyle following a horrific motorway accident. Without the 3D printed implant, Harewood may have lost his leg.

On an innocuous February morning in Warana, Queensland, electrician Callum Harewood crashed his van on the motorway, rolling the vehicle and suffering numerous injuries. As well as breaking vertebrae in his neck, the electrician suffered bruising to his brain, nerve damage to his arms, and several smashed bones in his right leg. He was taken to the nearby Nambour Hos­pital, but medical staff feared that the right leg would have to be amputated—a 15cm section of bone was missing, and several of the missing pieces were still scattered at the scene of the crash. Fortunately, a team of tech-savvy doctors were on hand to offer Harewood—a keen surfer in his spare time—a better option than amputation. With a 3D printed titanium implant, surgeons would be able to save the patient’s injured leg.

Using a metal 3D printer, medical staff were able to save Harewood’s leg by printing a custom, 15cm implant to replace the missing piece of bone. According to Dr Kevin Tetsworth, Harewood’s orthopedic ­surgeon at the Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital, the electrician was one of six patients to receive similar treatments at the hospital in the past year. “Callum had a terrible injury,” Tetsworth recalled. “There was so little bone left. Some of it was lost on the street and there would have been dead and really dirty fragments of bone. The result was a 15cm missing section and nothing to put screws into. Part of his cartilage was missing too.”

The life-changing 3D printing process was actually a collaborative effort between doctors at the RBWH and some helping hands from the USA. After admitting Harewood, staff at the Queensland-based hospital quickly took scans of the patient’s injuries, before sending them on to 4WEB, a Texas-based company, whose medical engineering team were able to fabricate a 3D printed titanium implant based on the exact physiology of Harewood’s injured right leg. This implant replaced some of the missing cartilage and supported a bone graft.

4WEB Medical, based in Frisco, Texas, offers a range of 3D printed implant services, and recently received FDA clearance for a 3D printed lateral spine truss system for patients with severe back injuries. The company had previously created other 3D printed, patient-specific implants for Australian hospitals through its partnership with LifeHealthcare, its Australian healthcare partner.

Callum Harewood is recovering after receiving a 3D printed titanium implant

Harewood himself, the man who has benefited most from the procedure, has admitted that he didn’t even know that this kind of 3D printing technology existed. “I’d never heard about 3D printers being used in medicine like that,” he said. “I’d seen some basic artwork from a 3D printer but I had no idea they were up to using titanium to make parts of your body. It’s pretty incredible what has been done.”

According to Tetsworth, this 3D printed titanium implant was really Harewood’s only option that involved keeping his leg—something the Queensland resident was keen to do in order to maintain his active surfer lifestyle. “Without a custom-made implant, it would have been impossible,” the doctor explained. “Nothing off the shelf would have worked and he would have had a mid-femur amputation.”

For Harewood, the 15cm titanium implant has had a huge impact on his life, but Tetsworth believes that medical 3D printing applications like this can only get better. For example, the most advanced implants available at present are highly bio-compatible, which means that the fabricated implants allow and encourage the organic regeneration of bone, with the 3D printed scaffold eventually dissolving away in a manner that is entirely harmless to the body. If researchers continue to perfect this technology, implants could someday become almost totally non-invasive.

After 30 years in surgery, Tetworth believes that the profession, with its growing acceptance of revolutionary technologies like 3D printing, is entering one of its most exciting eras. “I’m very jealous of doctors entering medicine now,” the doctor said. “They will be able to do things I can only dream of.”

The 3D printed titanium implant developed by 4WEB

Harewood was released from hospital in September, but still has to undergo a long period of rehabilitation before he can return to his previous way of life. The patient has not yet been able to return to work, but has been able to take short walks without the use of a wheelchair or crutches. Although the road to recovery is a long one, Harewood is simply grateful to have retained the use of his legs, and looks forward to the day he can put them to their best use: surfing.

“Considering the options, I’m ecstatic and relieved that something could be done to save my leg,” Harewood said. “I used to surf a lot and I’m hoping to get back into the water at some stage. The bottom line is, I’m very lucky not to be paralysed and I still have my leg because of this technology. It’s been life-changing surgery.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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