Imagine being in a traumatic car accident and suffering from wounds that leave you with deformities on your face. This is what happened to survivor, Stephen Power, 29, who experienced a serious motorcycle accident and was left in hospital for 4 months.
Despite wearing a helmet, Power still suffered many injuries to his face, including broken cheekbones, broken top jaw, nose and a fractured skull. These injuries left him with a face he couldn’t recognise. He stated, “I can’t remember the accident – I remember five minutes before and then waking up in the hospital a few months later”.
However, because of the new technology of 3D printing, Power’s life changed. He was one of the first trauma patients to have 3D printing used at all stages of his reconstructive surgery. Pioneers in 3D technology, the UK have made amazing advances in surgery. Doctors in Swansea, at Morriston Hospital, used custom-printed models, implants, plates and guides in order to help reconstruct Power’s face.
The main focus was to restore the symmetry of Power’s face. The team at the hospital used CT scans to print a symmetrical 3D model of his skull as well as cutting guides and plates to match. Adrian Sugar, maxillofacial surgeon, stated that there is a lot of guesswork in reconstructive surgery. 3D printing makes surgery more accurate. He states, “I think it’s incomparable – the results are in a different league from anything we’ve done before. What this does is it allows us to be much more precise. Everybody now is starting to think in this way – guesswork is not good enough.”
It took eight hours for the surgery to be complete. The first procedure was to re-fracture Power’s cheekbones using the cutting guides before they could reconstruct the face. Then they used 3D medical-grade titanium implants from Belgium to hold the bones into the new profile. Power says he feels like a changed man as his face is closer to how it looked before the accident. “I could see the difference straightaway the day I woke up from the surgery.”
Before this, Power felt he needed to hide his face in public and wore a hat and glasses to hide his injuries. He now feels more confident. “I’m hoping I won’t have to disguise myself – I won’t have to hide away,” he stated, “I’ll be able to do day-to-day things, go and see people, walk in the street, even go to any public areas.”