Jefferson docs in Haiti look to 3D printing to speed up surgeries

A 3D printed jaw bone with reconstructive material at the Jefferson Health Design Lab (Jad Sleiman/WHYY)

A 3D printed jaw bone with reconstructive material at the Jefferson Health Design Lab (Jad Sleiman/WHYY)

A team of  Thomas Jefferson University doctors have started using 3D printed models to speed up surgeries in Haiti.

They arrived there Wednesday on a mission trip and have until Sunday to perform a dozen reconstructive head and neck surgeries.

Robert S. Pugliese, Jefferson Health Design Lab director of innovation design, said these trips have been going on for about five years, relying on limited fundraising efforts. Doctors are always constrained by time and resources, he said.

“Literally, they bring the medications to do the anesthesia, because when that runs out they’re done. So every minute of an anesthesia time, they’re using more supplies. So cutting down an hour means maybe a whole ‘nother patient.”

Technicians in Haiti took CT scans of the patients, Pugliese said, and then mailed a DVD containing them to his lab in Philadelphia.

“And we took that and, just like we would do with any one of our patients here, we converted it to a 3D  printable model,” he said. “We printed it with the whole idea that our goal is we touch down, we hit the ground, we do as many surgeries as we can in the period of time that we’re there.”

Jefferson Health Design Lab director of innovation design Robert S. Pugliese watches a 3D printer at work. (Jad Sleiman/WHYY)

Most of the procedures involve using metal plates to replace bone in the face, jaw and neck that has been weakened or destroyed by cancer. Jefferson resident Dominick Gataleta explained how the models enable them to work ahead of the surgeries.

“What the models allow us to do is we can sit in this lab completely on a separate day and have complete access to the all the anatomy that the 3D printer allows, and game day we sterilize the pre-bent plate and we just throw it right on. So it makes it a lot easier.”

Gataleta said that also translates to patients spending less time with open surgical wounds as doctors form plates against the patients’ bones.

“There is risk of infection when they’re open like that to the open air,” he said. “So one aspect that we achieve when we’re doing the bending on models is that we’re limiting amount of time that they’re exposed to potential infection and also that they’re bleeding on the table.”

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