3D printing’s most interesting application medical industry is using 3D software and 3D printers for surgical pre-designing and planning. Doctors today worldwide are using 3D printing technology to help people overcome medical issues. Various complicated medical cases are solved with the help of 3D printing technology that has saved lives of many. The procedure involves converting an amalgamation of CT scan, MRI or ultrasound files into a 3D model and then printing it on a high-quality 3D printer. The replica usually an organ that is 3D printed is later studied by the doctors to visualize what the patient’s body looks on the inside. This helps in giving them a more clear vision to plan complicating surgery procedures to be carried out. Doctors used this process eventually on single organs like the heart where the defect is on the inside.
Recently surgeons used the process in a very complex case at Fudan University in Shanghai that set a new bar for 3D printing to be used in a medical procedure. In a remote mountainous region of Guizhou, China conjoined twins Yu Ce Yuan and Yu Ce Xiang (also known as James and Harley) were born to parents who were to poor to get medical care. Due to the financial condition of the parents the mother had to give birth to them in a natural way. The twins were joined at the abdomen and pelvic bone. In poorer areas of china where many children who are born with deformities are either put up for adoption or abandoned, Yu Ce Yuan and Yu Ce Xiang parents did not vouch for these options.
“In the beginning there was nothing abnormal. It was only when I had the baby that I realised they were conjoined twins. It was very painful and difficult. I felt like I was soon to die, like I couldn’t breathe and there was a lot of blood. I never considered giving them up. I gave birth to these children, they’re my flesh and I wouldn’t give them to anyone else,” said the twins’ mother, Zhou Li.
However, Yuan and Xiang’s parents were too poor to seek medical help. Even after raising money from friends, community and family they could not manage to arrange enough funds for their life saving surgery. The parents feared that they would be asked to choose between their children and decide which one of them would live and die respectively. A decision that no parent in the world could make. In hope of help they travelled 1,000 miles away at hospital in Fudan University. In shanghai luckily they got know about this charity organization called Love Without Boundaries, who helped in raising enough money to aid Yuan and Xiang’s surgery. The covering cost of the surgery procedure was estimated to be $60,000.
Initially the surgical team started by combining the twins’ CT and MRI files in a 3D printable model and sent if for 3D printing. The digital model of the twins would be used as a guide during the surgery. This 3D printed model would give the surgeons a clearer visual of exact places where and how the twins were joined, also enabling them to plan the complex surgery that would separate the twins permanently. Accordingly the surgeons concluded that the initial step would be separate the shared liver and the pelvic bone. Later another team of surgeons would work on the twins’ intestines and bladder. Then the orthopedic team would rebuild pelvic cavities of the babies’.
“The surgery is important for two people’s lives and their quality of life, urination, defecation and the bodily functions they will use in the future. Their makeup is extremely complicated, they only have one anus, four urethra and four bladders – their structure is incredibly complicated. Regarding protecting their lives, I’m positive. But to ensure two lives are intact, in terms of quality of life, normal functions like giving birth – I think that’s more difficult. The surgical procedures will be long, perhaps the children will have to go two or three surgeries,” explained Dr. Zheng Shan, one of the team of surgeons working on the twins.
On 24th February the surgery was carried out and it took about good 12 hours to complete the procedure. Being one of the first hospitals in China, Fudan University has successfully separated nine conjoined twins by using 3D printed surgical pre-planning. Ideally, only 1 out of 30,000 twins are born conjoined, Yuan and Xiang’s case being so complicated still the team successfully saved both of the twins’. More surgeries coming on their way in the next few months, their lives seem to be more better than before.