Health Beat: 3D printing helps surgeons fix scoliosis

 

Megan Johansen was diagnosed with scoliosis at age nine. When her fourth child turned three years old, her spine collapsed to a 90-degree bend.

"I couldn't breathe," Johansen said, "and I was starting to have really bad heart palpitations where it just felt like it was going to be beating out my chest or it would just, like, seize up."

She knew she finally needed surgery.

Surgeons at Barrow Neurological Institute use CT and MRI scans to make 3D models of patients' spines before surgery.

"We know how to print these spines in such a way that we'll get the same tissue quality in the spine and the same biomechanical performance of the spine model as we would expect to in the patient," said Dr. Michael Bohl, the founder and director of the Barrow Neurological Institute.

That really helps with complicated cases, like Johansen's. Her pedicle bones on the inside curves are small for screws to straighten her spine. After working with the model, surgeons changed their plan and didn't put them there.

"It gives us an opportunity to rehearse the case, to practice the plan that we have going into it and say, is this going to work or not? Do we need to revise our plan?" Bohl said.

Johansen had been told her surgery would be 12 hours long and her spine only corrected to about 50-degrees.

"When I woke up from surgery five hours later, I was only 13 degrees and five inches taller," Johansen said. "It was a miracle."

She still has some pain, but she's working again, and even hiking with her family.

It costs $50 to $70 to print a 3D model of a spine. Besides helping surgeons before operations, the models are used regularly in surgeon training and education for patients.