Health Team

Duke patient gets 3D-printed leg implant

Posted December 4, 2014 5:45 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2014 6:28 p.m. EST

Last February, 47-year-old Ruth Smith-Leigh was driving her two sons from an activity in South Boston, Va., when a car hit them head on.

Her car flipped over, but the boys were fine.

“Something was wrong with my leg, but I just thought it was a simple break,” Smith-Leigh said.

The break was bad.

A Virginia doctor gave her the bad news.

“The doctor actually told me that I had to have it amputated,” Smith-Leigh said. She lost bone in her leg during the accident and severely fractured what was remaining.

Smith-Leigh wanted to go to Duke University Hospital first.

Duke orthopedic surgeon Dr. Samuel Adams decided she was a good candidate for Duke's first effort at a 3D printed implant.

“Her own bones will grow into her implant and it's just as strong as her native bone, if not stronger,” Adams said. “It's a scaffold. That bone will grow into a truss system, and through the center of truss system is a titanium rod.”

For Smith-Leigh, her ankle won't be able to flex, but she's thankful to be able to stand and walk on her own feet.

Adams said, “Her outlook is very good, I actually have a CT scan to show that her bone is growing into the implant.”

She's doing so well she is ready for a special ankle brace and a supportive shoe.

“I feel excellent. I actually returned back to work. I teach school and I'm very passionate about teaching,” Smith-Leigh said.

Customized implants like Smith-Leigh’s are made using CT scans of patients injured area, in this case, the leg, ankle and foot. Scans are sent to a company in Texas called 4Web, which programs the information into a computer. That information is programmed into software that is used to "print" the implants that are later surgically placed in the patient.

A few patients in different centers around the country have received Smith-Leigh’s implant, but hers is the first in the state.