On October 13, a surgical team stood over two 13-month old boys who were joined at the head and shared up to 2 inches of brain tissue.
Jadon and Anias McDonald were born as craniopagus twins, an incredibly rare condition affecting just one in millions, and October 13 was the day their family had been waiting for. It was the day this team of doctors and nurses at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York would separate them.
The operation was risky and complicated, but the surgeons were confident.
Before they had made a single cut, they felt like they knew what to expect. Like they’d seen it before. And in some ways, they had — virtually.
Across the country, a team of designers and engineers anxiously awaited the outcome of the surgery. Some of the members were in the operating room, as it was their work that gave the surgeons a look into Jadon and Anias’ shared brain before they were anywhere near the operating room.
At 3D Systems outside Denver, traditional two-dimensional imaging like CT scans were converted into complex three-dimensional models. Some of the models became virtual files the surgeons could manipulate. Others were created by 3-D printers, models the surgeons could hold in their hands.
“We worked hand in hand with the neuroradiologists,” said Katie Weimer, vice president of medical devices for 3D Systems. “We were online for hours with that team, looking at each slice of the imaging data, deciding, is this side Jadon? Is this side Anias? What’s happening with this particular set of vessels?”
3-D printing is not new in the medical field. For years, it has been used for a variety of items such as splints, implants or models for other operations, like heart surgery.
3D Systems has collaborated on dozens of conjoined twins’ cases over the past decade, but the McDonald boys presented a complex new challenge.
Craniopagus twins are extremely rare, occurring in only one of out of every 2.5 million births. About 40% of these twins are stillborn, and another third die within 24 hours of birth.
There are not many surgeons who have operated on craniopagus twins, but Dr. James Goodrich, at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, is a world expert on them.
For his team, the surgery started with a virtual planning session courtesy of 3D Systems.