Innovative 3D-Printed Bone Implant Put the Spring Back in Natasha’s Step

Date: May 6, 2022

When Natasha Bass survived a severe car accident in September 2016, she wondered if she would be able to walk again. With both legs and ankles broken in multiple places, she joked that “my surgeon had to put me back together again like Humpty Dumpty.”

After the accident, Natasha had to stop working as a security officer in a hospital while she began to heal. It wasn’t long before Natasha noticed one of her feet started tilting. X-rays confirmed that she had developed talar avascular necrosis due to her bone break, which meant her ankle bone was losing blood supply and dying.

In 2017, Jason Bariteau, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center, started with non-surgical treatments such as bracing, using a boot, modifying activity and stimulating the bone to heal. When that didn’t work and Natasha’s talus bone continued to soften, he presented her with a surgical option: ankle and subtalar joint fusion, which involves fusing three bones together. But even that treatment had limitations. Because the subtalar joint is what gives your ankle its basic rotation, permanently fixing Natasha’s ankle at a 90-degree angle and eliminating movement in the joint, the fusion procedure would reduce her pain but seriously limit her mobility and change her gait.

“I would have to walk with a cane for the rest of my life,” said Natasha, who’s in her 40s and enjoys an active lifestyle that includes biking, daily nature walks, and dancing for fun.

Since fusion was the only surgical option available to her at the time, she decided to wait and check in with her doctor to make sure the bone was still getting some blood supply. “It was painful to walk partially on the side of my foot. I took pain relievers and arthritis pills.” Yet Natasha remained determined. “I kept going every day and I still did things I needed to do. But if I was on my foot for too long, I would have to take a break and sit the next day.”

A few years later, she was offered a new solution involving 3D printing that could be the answer she was looking for.

“What enticed me the most was that he knew what he was doing because he had done a few before. It was new and inventive,” said Natasha. “I’m not afraid to try something new. I think God put him in my path.”

3D Printing Provides an Innovative Surgical Option

Dr. Bariteau referred Natasha to another surgeon at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center Brookhaven office (which is located inside the Emory Musculoskeletal Institute building) who had recently gained experience with 3D-printed implants. Rishin Kadakia, MD, suggested they try a new, innovative procedure to address her condition, relieve pain and keep her ankle range of motion: a 3D-printed talus implant coupled with an ankle replacement and the surgical fusion of several bones.

Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center is one of the largest orthopaedics centers of excellence in the southeast and provides innovative solutions to help patients fully recover faster with better results. Natasha was excited at the thought of the suggested treatment.

“What enticed me the most was that he knew what he was doing because he had done a few before. It was new and inventive,” said Natasha. “I’m not afraid to try something new. I think God put him in my path.”

Drs. Bariteau and Kadakia collaborated on Natasha’s procedure. “We both have a clinical interest in complex reconstructive cases,” said Dr. Kadakia. “It helps to have two surgeons working together to bounce ideas off each other.” They decided Natasha was a good candidate for the procedure based on her condition, medical history and treatment goals.

In August 2021, Natasha received a custom, 3D-printed cobalt chrome talus implant and the procedure was completed. “I was really excited to have something so new,” said Natasha. “And it was going to give me the best quality of life so I can go back to work and be able to do things I used to do.”

The day of her procedure, Natasha was nervous. She remembered one of the surgeons whispering into her ear, “Everything is going to be fine,” after which she felt a sense of calm. “I put my faith in them,” said Natasha. “I would do it all over again.”

Outstanding Outcomes – Inside and Out

While there is limited data on 3D-printed implants, Dr. Kadakia explained that “early results are good, and our patients are doing well. Careful patient selection and counseling is key. 3D-printed implants are not for every case – but in some instances they can provide an innovative option when there are limited surgical solutions.”

That’s the case for Natasha, who has been dedicated to her rehabilitation and recovery since day one.

Six months out from her surgery, Natasha feels 70% back and expects to reach 100% soon. “I’m walking fine, and I feel stronger and ready to tackle each day.” She’s getting back to visiting her friends and family and taking daily walks. She enjoys riding her bike and being in nature “to have that peaceful time for myself and calm my nerves. Nature makes you realize you’re alive.”

Natasha’s attitude has also received a boost. “The surgery has made me feel more confident about myself.”

Expressing Her Gratitude

Natasha has more than enough words to express her gratitude. “I’m thankful and privileged to get this surgery. It makes me feel like I could conquer the world again.”

She’s especially thankful for her care team. “These doctors care more about the welfare of the patient. They gave me choices, explained everything to me and made sure I understood, had a quick response time and always kept in touch with me throughout the process.”

To honor her care team, Natasha decided to express her thanks through her favorite form of writing, a poem.

So it begins the writing on the wall

   Dr. Kadakia and Dr. Bariteau had advised me on a new life,

The positivity all anew, the patient care inviting 

    My response out of the blue, 

Yes! I declared I am happy to take this journey with you,

     It took some time, patience is key

Truly blessed hands are these Dr. Kadakia and Dr. Bariteau,

I owe you my gratitude, special you are, everyone needs to know,

     You gentlemen are the epitome of satisfaction,

You both deserve all accolades 

      Your care and patience for me outstanding,

For you gentlemen, Dr. Kadakia and Dr. Bariteau, I thank you from the bottom of my heart

       Dr. Kadakia and Dr. Bariteau, your kindness and character, 

What wonderful doctors you are, thank you again for taking me on this wonderful journey, 

    This new life because of you

  So it begins the writing on the wall.

Take Your Next Step

Discover your best options with the innovative experts at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. World-class care, close to home with 11 regional offices. Learn more and make an appointment online or call 404-778-3350.

Schedule your appointment today.

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