Reconstructive plastic surgeon Dr Joe Dusseldorp has introduced Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to an exciting new possibility for reconstructive surgery – the 3D printed ear.
Dr Dusseldorp specialises in creating customised ear reconstructions using a 3D printing technology to create a porous polyethylene framework and covers this with living tissue and skin grafts from the patient. The cutting-edge technique involves taking a 3D-scan of the opposite ear and using computer software to convert the scan into a digital model, which can then be inverted.
“You literally flip it so suddenly you’re looking at the ear you want to create,” Dr Dusseldorp explains. “Then you design the new ear exactly how you want it. One piece in all its glory.”
Once implanted, the plastic structure is covered with a layer of living tissue, known as fascia, with its artery and veins inside it, and skin grafts taken from surrounding areas. A suction dressing and a custom-made silicon mould are used to ensure the skin adheres to the contours of the new ear, achieving a natural appearance.
For Dr Dusseldorp, it’s the natural look that makes custom 3D printed ears so special. A person’s ears are as unique as their fingerprints, and not only does a disfigured or absent outer ear make hearing more difficult, it can also significantly impact a person’s body image and confidence. The natural look achieved by 3D printed prosthetic ears can alleviate many of these issues for patients.
“This technology is producing amazing results for patients,” says Dr Dusseldorp. “Being able to faithfully reconstruct missing areas of the body, particularly around the face, vastly improves a person’s quality of life. They feel like part of the tribe again.”
While this technology has the potential to revolutionise the field, it is more costly than traditional techniques. Fortunately, Dr Dusseldorp also specialises in a more financially-accessible option – the fashioning of ears from rib cartilage, a technique he learned from his mentor, renowned French Plastic Surgeon, Dr Françoise Firmin. This procedure involves carving three to four pieces of rib cartilage into specific shapes, then stitching them together to create an ear ‘sculpture’.
Dr Dusseldorp regularly travels to Hanoi to perform the rib cartilage procedure. Earlier this year he performed 10 surgeries for people with missing ears as part of a mission trip and education program run in affiliation with Harvard University.
“I love reconstructing ears. A lot of people don’t imagine it’s something that’s even possible. It is extremely rewarding to bring such significant benefits to patients.”