3D printing revolution in healthcare

Jonathan Mwiti Maranya sufffered intracerebral haemorrage that would have killed him, but thanks to advances in three dimension printing his life was saved by doctors quick action

“Have you ever wondered why there are people that fall and die in the bathroom?” Jonathan Mwiti Maranya poses.  While he does not hold a conclusive answer to the question, Jonathan vividly remembers a near-death experience he had while in the bathroom in 2014. A teacher, Jonathan had left work at a secondary school in Machakos for home one evening and headed straight to the shower. He had been experiencing a mild headache for the better part of the day and reasoned that a shower would offer relief.

Instead, a splash of water onto his head inflicted excruciating pain that sent him tumbling on the bathroom floor.

“The pain was unbearable and I writhed on the floor crying out for help,” he remembers. His son came to his rescue and rushed him to Machakos Referral Hospital. But realising that his problem was complex, the doctors referred him to MP Shah Hospital in Nairobi for specialised treatment.

A CT scan and a 3D image of his brain helped quickly diagnose his problem.

He had suffered intracerebral haemorrhage, which is bleeding of blood vessels in the brain. “The doctor explained that immediately I splashed water on my head, the impact of the water caused the cranium-bones covering the brain to exert pressure on the veins causing three of them to burst. Following the diagnosis, Jonathan underwent a three-hour successful surgery and began his journey to recovery. Jonathan has now fully recovered.

The use of 3D technology came in handy in speedy diagnosis and paved way for the right medical intervention before it was too late.There was a high risk of severe disability or even death if the bleeding was not contained in time.

Though three dimension printing debuted into the world  in 1984, the technique has made advancements that are being incorporated into healthcare. 3D printing is applied in healthcare to depict correct visualisations of the human body. It helps show what is most evident and also what cannot be seen with the naked eye. 

Data collected via CT scans, MRI and laser scans helps fabricate models. “The customised models improve diagnosis of illnesses, planning and even help physicians practise surgical procedures beforehand. It saves time and is safer for the patient since the doctor has refined the procedure beforehand,” says Dr Andrew Cook, a heart specialist, Great Ormond Street Hospital, UK during a 3D in healthcare conference in Nairobi.

“The human anatomy varies from one individual to another. 3D printing enables doctors recreate accurate body parts or organs of a specific patient,” explains Chris Muraguri, the founder of Micrive Infinite, a company that offers 3D printing services in healthcare. With 3D images the precision and accuracy of medical procedures such as surgeries is improved. Micrive which was started two years ago offers anatomical models and design of implants and surgical guides to orthopaedic, plastic surgeons and neurosurgeons.

In orthopaedics, 3D printing is used in making appliances such as artificial limps also referred to as prosthesis. “Traditionally, we would use a cast and fill it with powder to take the shape of the leg or hand that needs prosthesis. We would then create a socket that could accurately fit and connect to the rest of the amputated limb. With 3D printing, however, we use scanned images of the stump of a limb to get the accurate shape. From that we create prosthesis,” explains Joseph Theuri, orthopedic surgeon, AIC CURE international Hospital, Kijabe.

Applying 3D in orthopedics has improved the accuracy of the prosthesis fitted on limbs and also cut the costs of the procedure by up to 20 per cent.  Though a relatively new concept in the Kenyan medicine field, three dimension printing is changing the trajectory of healthcare in cardiac, brain and plastic surgeries.

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