When he was just a nine-year-old boy, Zimbabwean man Blessing Makwera was severely injured after a land-mine detonator blew up in his mouth, leaving his jaw and mouth insurmountably damaged. Now, however, Makwera is being offered a chance to beam a smile again, thanks to a collaborative 3D printed effort by the Operation of Hope, Sharp Memorial Hospital, and 3D Systems. The facial reconstruction project began after Makwera was discovered by Jennifer Trubenbach, the president of Operation of Hope, a California-based organization that offers surgical care and assistance to underserved communities across the world.
From there, Blessing Makwera’s facial reconstruction surgery was undertaken by the Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, where staff surgeons charitably spent two years planning the rebuild of Makwera’s face. During that time, oral surgeon Dr. Joel Berger reached out to 3D Systems to help prepare for surgical operation by mapping out a 3D model of Makwera’s damaged facial areas from the hospital’s CT scans. “I was running the surgical planning software on my computer in our offices in Golden while surgeons viewed my computer screen and directed the cuts and movements from a conference room in San Diego — all in real-time 3D,” says head of 3D Systems’ VSP Reconstruction services Mike Rensberger.
In addition to surgical preparation assistance, 3D Systems also utilized their ProX800 and ProJet 7000 SLA 3D printers to manufacture models and tools for Makwera’s facial reconstruction operation. Using the model of his jaw and mouth, 3D Systems manufactured a reconstructed lower and upper model of Makwera’s jaw, which were used by surgeons to create a titanium reconstruction plate before the surgery ever began. 3D Systems is also providing the Sharp Memorial Hospital surgeons with mandible and fibula cutting tools to help guide saw blades during the surgery.
“The surgical planning and guides that you constructed allowed the two surgical teams to efficiently and quickly reconstruct the defects,” said Dr. Berger. “The models, guides and templates were accurate, set very nicely, and allowed the surgery to go through without a hitch.”
After an intensive twelve hour surgery, Blessing Makwera was finally able to smile and speak through a jaw that both looked and functioned in the same fashion as anyone else’s. Now, at 23, Makwera can express his joy and laughter through a set of pearly whites, thanks to the Sharp Memorial Hospital surgery team and the use of 3D printed models and tools made by 3D Systems for Makwera’s now-repaired jaw.