A 2-year-old Oregon girl is smiling again — but this time with a new smile — after undergoing a complicated surgery to rebuild portions of her face. The doctor who did the work is saying everything worked out so well because he was able to use 3-D printing to plan his approach to the procedure.
ABC News reports Violet Pietrok was born with a rare craniofacial defect called a Tessier facial cleft. For the young girl, the condition, which developed while she was still in her mother’s womb, resulted in a widening of facial features, and left her with a large space between her eyes and a cleft running down the center of her face.
Dr. John Meara, the chief plastic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, performed the surgery. He said he was able to plan through how to rebuild portions of the girl’s face by creating a model of her skull and experimenting on the model before going into the operating room.
"This isn't like free throw practice," Meara told the Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon, ”You can't just go out and try and if you miss, try again.
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"3-D printing is a way to let you see where you're going,” he explained. “For example, we wanted to move the eyes closer together and we can see where there might be problems. This way, we can just do it again in practice rather than having it have to be right the first time.”
Dr. Frank Rybicki is chief of medical imagining at Ottawa Hospital. He was once the director of the applied imaging science lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is very close to Boston Children’s. He helped develop the model for Violet’s surgery. Rybicki told The New York Times that, as 3-D printing technology advances, it will “change everything.”
Rybicki said the models provided “unprecedented surgical planning” that resulted in “unprecedented accuracy.”
Meara said he consulted the model numerous times, even while he was in surgery. He was able to move pieces around and figure out solutions when he reached a stumbling block.
“The ability to physically move those segments is huge,” Meara told The Times. “Otherwise, you’re doing it for the first time in the operating room.”
Violet’s mother, Alicia Taylor, said she is more than pleased with the results and her daughter has handled the whole thing with a wining attitude.
"The surgery alone was about nine hours," Taylor said. "Then she had to go through six or seven weeks of very careful recovery. Violet is so good and has handled it so well. She had a smile on her face right after surgery.”
Violet’s father, Matt Pietrok, told the Statesman journal that his daughter, while still recovering, is back to playing with her twin sister, Cora.
"She's amazing,” he said. “We just love her little face. I don't even notice the differences she has anymore.”
Here is Violet with her father before her operation:
Katherine C. Cohen/Boston Children's Hospital
Here is Violet while recovering after the surgery:
Photo Credit: Alicia Taylor/Facebook, Boston Children’s Hospital via YouTube