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Surgeons worked for eight hours to restore Stephen Power's skull.
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A scan of Stephen Power's skull
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Stephen Power before and after his operation using 3D printing.
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3D printing technology was used to create cutting guides and plates for Stephen Power's facial reconstruction surgery.
3D printing technology from both LayerWise and Renishaw has been used to rebuild a man's face after it was seriously damaged following a motorcycle accident.
Stephen Power, who is 29 and from Roath in Cardiff, broke both his arms and required a bone graft in his leg following the crash, which happened while he travelled home from a night with friends in Porthcawl in September 2012.
Power's face was shattered in the impact. His upper jaw and skull were smashed and he sustained fractures to his cheek bones and eye sockets, leaving the young father and former barman disfigured and hospital-bound for four months.
In late 2013, plans were put in place to surgically restore Power's facial symmetry by the Centre for Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery, which is a partnership between Swansea's Morriston Hospital's Maxillofacial Unit and the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Restoring facial symmetry
Power's emergency treatment on the night of the accident took place at Morriston Hospital. Consultant Maxillofacial Surgeon there Adrian Sugar explained that despite surgeons' efforts after the crash, ophthalmologists warned against doing work that could do further damage to the 29-year-old's sight. As a result, his left cheekbone could not be repositioned and the bones in his eye socket could not be reconstructed, making his eye appear sunken.
In order to restore his facial symmetry, doctors used CT scans to create a 3D model of Power's skull, 3D printing cutting guides and plates to match. Sugar explained that 3D printing technology removed some of the guesswork that can prove problematic in reconstructive surgery. The manufacturing of cutting and positioning guides in bio-compatible cobalt chromium alloy was commissioned to Renishaw, the only UK manufacturer of a metal 3D printing machine, while LayerWise produced the patient-specific titanium implants as part of a pioneering facial reconstruction.
"It's incomparable, the results are in a different league from anything we've done before. What this does is allows us to be much more precise. Everybody now is starting to think in this way," Sugar said, adding, "Guesswork is not good enough..
Power's eight-hour operation began with the team re-fracturing his cheekbones with cutting guides before remodelling his face.
A medical-grade 3D-printed titanium implant was used to hold the bones in their new shape.
"Being able to do that and to put them back in the right position was a complex 3D exercise. It made sense to plan it in three dimensions and that is why 3D printing came in – and successive 3D printing, as at every different stage we had a model," Sugar stated.
Although Power still has some way to go with his physical recovery, the success of the facial reconstruction has been, in his own words, "life changing" and has huge implications for others who have suffered similarly devastating accidents.
"I could see the difference straight away the day I woke up from surgery," he told reporters, adding that now he hopes he will no longer have to "hide away" and can go back to living a normal life.
But the journey for 3D printing in the medical arena has been a long one and the success of Power's operation is a result of years of honing the technology.
Sugar said: "Previous efforts elsewhere to take it to this step have failed and so we have had to learn from those experiences. This is really the first time we’ve taken it to this stage, where everything to the very last screws being inserted has been planned and modelled in advance."
Mr Power's operation is one of the features at the London Science Museum's 3D Printing: The Future exhibition, which looks at how this maturing technology is permeating everyday life.