Fanny Fallesen is on the road to recovery. Just two years ago, the 16-year-old was looking at a life in a wheelchair, due to a rare degenerative condition called Recklinghausen's disease, which causes skeletal deformities.
"I was very dependent on help from my parents and very dependent on my wheelchair and two crutches and I wasn't as free as I am now. I can do much more, I can cope more myself, be out with my friends and use my wheelchair less and less, walk longer distances."
The teenager's recovery is the result of a technological revolution. Traditional treatments for Fallesen's degraded hip just weren't adequate. So in 2012, her doctors recommended she be measured for customized 3D-printed hip implants, courtesy of Belgian company, Mobelife. 3D printing technology offers tailor-made body parts, ensuring an exact match with a patient's anatomy, unlike conventional implants says CEO Tim Clijmans.
"These cases are more and more common nowadays with revisions being more common, so there are more and more chances that implants have to be replaced, complex bone defects have to be resolved and complex tumour defects have to be resolved." The printed implant is created using a specialized tomography scan, following the patient's specific bone anatomy. Screw placement is also unique to each patient, based on bone quality. Fallesen's surgeon, professor Urban Rydholm says Mobelife provided detailed instructions for the implants and even though the surgery was challenging, he believes it was his patient's only hope for a life without a wheelchair.
"We can handle severe bone loss in the hip in most cases with standard implants and supporting rings and things like that but this was, we could see no solution for her until we heard about this possibility with custom-made acetabular (hip ball-and-socket joint) implants from Belgium." Currently 3D-printed implants are used only for very specialised cases but Clijmans thinks that will change in future.
"I think there are a lot of cases out there which are not that exceptional and complex as this one, where we can provide a lot of added value with this technology." According to Rydholm, Fallesen's prognosis is positive but he says the disease will probably cause problems in her spine and lower left leg later on. But for now, Fallesen is optimistic.
"I'm positive about a future when I can get rid of the crutches and walk without aid."
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