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3D Printing in the OR

April 15, 2021

TELUS Friendly Future Foundation invests in the big picture of health care for Manitobans

A mesh titanium skull is created at HSC with 3D printers. “For brain injuries, we can now use CT scans to build a piece of custom titanium mesh that is the exact replica of what the patient is missing in their skull,” says Dr. Christian Petropolis.

Joey* never slept in. He didn’t care about making it to the next level in a video game or how many followers he had online. At age 17, Joey had spent more time on the ice than he ever had celebrating birthdays with friends, holidays with family, or having anything that resembled a social life. Joey didn’t mind. Sacrificing his childhood for a chance to be drafted into the NHL was worth it—until his hockey game on February 9, 2019. Fifteen minutes into the game, a puck—whipped from a slapshot—cracked Joey in the head. Despite wearing a helmet, there was severe bleeding in his brain.

Emma loved her job. Being a school librarian was incredibly rewarding, but, even though she would never admit it, her job was getting harder to complete with her worsening arthritis plus, Emma’s retired husband had his heart set on migrating south during Manitoba’s winters.

One month after handing in her retirement notice, and one week after purchasing a condo in Arizona, Emma learned that the ache in her jaw wasn’t arthritis, but cancer. Separated by decades and lifestyles, Joey and Emma share something in common: their gratitude for 3D printing in health care. Joey successfully had a piece of his skull replaced with titanium, while Emma had a portion of her jaw rebuilt. Thanks to 3D printers, surgeons can better treat patients with increased accuracy while spending less money—and time—in the operating room.

This past spring, TELUS Friendly Future Foundation, a foundation that contributes over $8 million annually to Canadian charities, invested in the transformational results of 3D printing by making a $100,000 gift to the HSC Foundation. This gift helps fund the essential research and development of 3D printing at HSC Winnipeg.

“For brain injuries, we can now use CT scans to build a piece of custom titanium mesh that is the exact replica of what the patient is missing in their skull,” says Dr. Christian Petropolis, plastic surgeon at HSC Winnipeg. “Because of 3D printing, we can now calculate exactly what segment of the body needs to be removed. Prior to using 3D printing, there was a lot of guesswork—it was hard to be accurate.”

Not only do 3D printers at HSC yield better results for patients, but the associated costs are much lower. For example, prior to 3D printers, Dr. Petropolis would have
to outsource an implant for $10,000—or more. Now, he can create the same implant in-house for around $1,000–$2,000.

“Here at HSC, we are doing the kind of work that would typically be outsourced. To have this rapid access to 3D printers is incredibly beneficial—not many hospitals have what we have here,” says Dr. Petropolis. “It’s a big deal to have in-house medical modelling and a 3D printing lab. I am grateful to have these funds that enhance the work being done at HSC.”

*Cases in story are based on common examples.