3-D model gives surgeons practice prior to surgery

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Imagine if your surgeon could practice on your body prior to surgery.

One California doctor is using 3-D printing to create plastic models of bones to practice procedures.

Dr. Bruce Hensel said it can make a difference for surgeons and patients.

Juanita Heth has been suffering with severe shoulder pain for years.

"It's awful," she said. "I mean you can't brush your hair, you can't wash your back. It's awful. It's painful 24-7."

Tests revealed Heth's pain was coming from a combination of arthritis and a surprising hole in the bone.

She was told she should consider a bone graph before a shoulder replacement.

Orthopedist Russell Petrie said the first step would have to be to figure out a way to repair the hole, which was in a difficult to reach and see location.

"How do I fix this hole so that I can fix her arthritis problem without creating a problem?" Petrie asked.

The solution was an innovative one that Petrie is pioneering, using 3-D printing to create an exact model of Heth's injured shoulder. Petrie could then use that print guide for the surgery.


"We actually did a formal operation on the model before we actually did it on her," he said.

When Petrie performed the actual surgery, he knew exactly how to fix the problems because he had already done it with the model.

"It was the most incredible sense of déjà vu, because I've already been there, but yet I've never actually been there," he said.

It may make operations safer for some patients and more precise. The doctor is now using 3-D models for other challenging cases.

"He (Petrie) said he couldn't have done the shoulder without using that 3-D method," Heth said.

Some experts are wary of the approach, but others say 3-D printing could change the way we practice medicine.

The technology is now fast enough and cheap enough for individual doctors to afford, and some insurance companies are in the process of adding coverage for the cost of producing the plastic models.