Stephanie Benoit January 12, 2017

Betty and her husband were about to leave on their annual holiday to Spain when they heard the bad news: her husband was terminally ill. The situation only got worse when Betty fell during the holiday and shattered her right elbow. Although she received medical attention, it was impossible to allow the bones to heal properly at a time when her husband needed all her care and attention.

She bravely weathered through the last months of her husband’s life, but after he passed away her arm was still not functioning properly and causing her considerable pain. It was time for Betty to heal, both mentally and physically. Production house Nieveranst filmed her gripping journey for RobTv.


Betty's elbow reconstruction


After consulting several specialists, Betty was eventually referred to the University Hospitals Leuven, where her extremely complex case was taken over by Dr. Prof. Stefaan Nijs. The x-rays of Betty’s elbow showed a defect in one of the bone’s of around 10 cm, that needed to be completely replaced, the remaining bone had to be repositioned. A very challenging case indeed, even for a skilled surgeon such as Prof. Nijs, who managed to restore the functionality of the patient’s elbow and take away his patient’s pain thanks to the use of 3D technology and 3D Printing.

“Eyeballing, guessing, trying to be as precise as possible – everything depended strongly on the skill of the surgeon. We used to measure surgeries quite archaically on chalk paper, and some doctors were better at it than others. There were so many margins for error that you could never be precise. Now we can be precise, and dependable. As the patient, you can also be more certain of the results of your surgery.”


Prof. Nijs has collaborated with Materialise for several years now and feels very comfortable with the 3D technology. Not only does he use the technology to fully plan his surgery, he also used 3D visuals on a tablet to explain all the different steps of the procedure to his patient. Thanks to these explanations, his patient understood the complexity even better. Betty:


“The engineers worked on it for months, I didn’t understand at first, but now I do, this has really been tailor-made for me, it can’t be used for anyone else. Fantastic isn’t it, the cooperation between the professors and the businesses. Unbelievable really.”


And the cooperation has paid off. The hours of engineering work at Materialise together with the surgical skills of Prof. Nijs made it possible to reconstruct Betty’s elbow and give her back the mobility she needs in her daily life. To accomplish this, anatomical models of her elbow and patient-specific guides were 3D printed for use during surgery to accurately remove and reconstruct the damaged bone. The surgery went smoothly and Betty is finally on her way to recovery.

For Prof. Nijs, 3D Printing is the future of personalized healthcare. For this surgery plastic models and instruments were used, but it’s perfectly possible to print in metal. “This means that for some people where we had to amputate because a reconstruction wasn’t possible, we now can reconstruct their limb and make it functional again.”

If you understand Dutch, you can discover Betty’s journey on the TV program “the DNA of Leuven”, produced by Nieveranst and RobTV in collaboration with Leuven Mindgate, Stad Leuven and the Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen.

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