As more surgeons find success with the use of 3D printing in their surgical workflows, surgeons who have been yet to use 3D printing in their own process have been increasingly trying out the technology for a range of new uses. More recently, 3D printing was used to aid in the surgical repair of a severe facial deformity in China.
Ami Namuhan, a little girl who was born in 2013 in China’s Xinjiang province, was born with both her upper and lower jaws fused together and as a result, has suffered from a cleft palate, palate fissures and a severe facial deformity. It’s been reported that facial deformities like Namuhan’s are very rare - with no more than 100 being reported - so treatments and solutions haven’t been heavily researched.
While other children would currently be speaking or making noises at her current age, Namuhan’s condition has made it difficult for her to speak like other children her age. Aside from not being able to speak, Namuhan is also unable to eat solid foods due to not being able to open her mouth. Instead, she is fed soft foods through a gap between her alveolar and nose. Hoping to find a solution, her parents started looking around at different hospitals for a possible treatment.
"Her teeth have remained closed, and she has never been able to open her mouth for three years,” said Namuhan’s father, Memet Metuheti. “She has never chewed her food or has experienced the pleasure of eating food. She also is not able to talk as much as the rest of the children her age.”
Although Metuheti previously looked for hospitals soon after his daughter was born, her small size and unique condition made any sort of surgical procedure extra risky. However, now that she is bigger and there have been advances in medical technology - such as the use of 3D printing - he feels that there is a renewed sense of hope. Thankfully, he was right.
Recently, Namuhan and her family received support from a Chinese cleft palate treatment foundation called ‘YanRan Funding’ and were referred to the Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Center for surgery.
According to the medical center’s director Cui Yinggui, the bone structure in Namuhan’s mouth is very complicated, and impossible to observe with the naked eye. Prior to committing to surgery, the team assigned to Namuhan’s case decided to treat her using a combination of digital oral and maxillofacial surgery simulation and 3D printing technology.
To create the 3D print, a maxillofacial 3D scan was first created of the tiny patient’s head. From there, 3D specialists cleaned up the the 3D scan and printed the resin model in two pieces at a 1:1 scale.
Leading up to the surgery last week, the surgical team performed a number of both virtual surgeries using the digital simulator as well as physical practice surgeries using the 3D print of young Numuhan’s skull to ensure that they had every step of the procedure perfected.
For the procedure, a bone on the left side of Numuhan’s skull, about the size of 30 mm x 6mm x 8 mm, and a smaller piece of bone on the right side were cut off. Both bones were the root cause of the fusing of the upper and lower jaws, according to Cui Yinggui. Doctors also transplanted her own periosteum to prevent the bone from refusing together again.
Just days after the surgery, the procedure has already been called a success and Namuhan's parents have been shedding tears with excitement and relief. Young Namuhan was also able to go home after only four days in the hospital. As for how she will start using her ‘new’ mouth, the doctors are very optimistic:
"Future surgeries to repair other facial deformities will be required. More training will also be required. But as long as she keeps practicing she can restore the function and be like a normal child that is able to talk, without any difference," Cui Yinggui said.