For five years, Jefferson University Hospital surgeons have been traveling to Haiti to rebuild the jaws of patients whose faces are disfigured by benign, yet massive tumors. These are delicate operations, made all the more challenging because the doctors cannot see what they are dealing with until they arrive in a sparsely equipped operating room in Port-au-Prince and meet their patients.
This year they tried a new tactic: making models of the patients' jaws in advance, with 3-D printers in Philadelphia.
The idea was to use the plastic models as a guide, allowing the physicians to bend titanium surgical plates in the exact shape of each patient's jawbone—a task normally done during surgery. Shaping the plates in advance would save up to an hour in the operating room, reducing time under anesthesia, the risk of infection, and other complications, and it also would help the surgeons achieve a more faithful reconstruction of each patient's original anatomy.