Grace Kabelenga was born in 2008 in Zambia with what was described as severe craniofacial deformities, but that is an understatement. The bones in the middle of her face were missing, as well as large portions of her skull and the bones that separate her brain from her oral cavity. She had difficulty breathing and swallowing, and initially she was too young and too malnourished for corrective surgery.
Finally, she was approved for surgery in 2012, and a team of doctors from the World Craniofacial Foundation planned the procedure to be performed at Mexico City Hospital Infantil. They turned to the Healthcare Technology Center of 3D Systems in Denver, Colorado. The company is a world leader in 3D scanning and printing, and their experts were able to create physical models based on Grace’s medical imaging data that they used to plan the surgery. They were also able to print molds with complex shapes that were used to create implants to provide a scaffolding for bone grafts. In time, these implants will be absorbed by her body and replaced with her own bone over time. Grace still has one more surgery to go, which will do more work on her nose and eyes, but she now can eat, speak, and breath normally.
3D printing made it possible to undertake a reconstruction of Grace’s face that would have been impossible a generation ago. This is just one more example of how new technology can transform and save lives.