by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
Do you remember first hearing the news back in 1967 about a human heart was going to be transplanted into another person? It was over 55 years ago that Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed this medical first in Cape Town, South Africa. In those days we all thought this was so “sci-fi” and it astounded the medical community and lay persons around the world. Moving forward, during the following 25 years, anti organ rejection drugs were developed that increased the rate of survival for transplant recipients. By now, more than 50,000 heart transplants have been performed in the United States and we have almost come to take these operations as no longer out of the ordinary. Recently I heard of another medical advancement that I was unaware when my former tennis partner at our club told me about the operation she would soon be having. She is going to have a full knee replacement because of the terrible pain and discomfort she has had over the last few years with her “bone on bone” in the knee joint. Besides arthritis buildup, her surgeon told her years of playing tennis and “lunging forward” to hit the ball, advanced the wear and tear on her knees. This is not anything new to have a knee or hip replacement, but another medical aspect to the replacement has been developed for this procedure which is something I have not heard about. Usually it is only when a friend or family member is going through medical procedures do we learn about these innovations unless reading scientific or medical journals has in interest for someone not in the field.
The part to be inserted in her knee is based on the same technology of a 3D Printer, which is an amazing machine that makes a duplicate of the item you want to copy. I first saw a 3D Printer in action at the Montauk Library as it made a paper copy of a sailing vessel, with every detail it contained. A 3D printer can make copies in paper, plastic, metal and other components, based on its design and capacity for the material used. My friend having a knee replacement related that her surgeon will be using a similar 3D device by a Swiss company named Zimmer that can build an exact duplicate of the knee part to be removed. Founded by Justin O. Zimmer in 1927 (1884-1951) the company is located in Warsaw, Indiana and designs, develops, manufacturers and markets medical equipment to over forty countries worldwide. Back in 2015 Zimmer merged with Biomet and these two orthopedic industry leaders have come up with various orthopedic implants. They design, develop, manufactures and markets orthopedic products, including knee, hip, shoulder, spine, elbow, foot and ankle artificial joints and dental prostheses. First a patient has an MRI to make the image of the body part that will be replaced. That image will be forwarded to the Zimmer Biomet Company whose technology uses this human CT data with the 3D printing to build a structure that directly will mimic the architecture of the human cancellous bone that will be replaced. In this case, it’s my friend’s knee. This process maintains the consistent porosity and strength necessary to facilitate tissue in-growth and implant stability. After following physical therapy after surgery, patients hope to have the agility they once had and walking pain free now. Medical and science advances continue to amaze, impress and help patients recover more quickly and with more ease than in past decades. Those patients going through this type of surgery can take advantage of this progress and innovations.