Conjoined twins occur at a rate of approximately one for every 200,000 births and are subject to a sobering mortality rate. Of those who survive, separation surgery is often the best, if not the only, shot at a meaningful quality of life. Yet because these cases are so rare, there is a limited amount of research available to the doctors called upon to perform these surgeries. Fortunately, advancements in digitization and manufacturing technology have come a long way to help demystify these operations and illuminate a path forward.

3D Systems’ healthcare services and 3D printing in particular have been extraordinarily helpful to doctors and their teams over the past decade, as with the case of the Hernandez-Torres twins. Part of a triplet pregnancy, the Hernandez-Torres twins were conjoined at the pelvis before being separated by Drs. Haroon Patel and Kevin Hopkins at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in April of 2016. Their case was made more manageable through the use of 3D anatomical modeling, which enabled the surgeons and their team to plan and prepare for surgery based on a more tangible understanding of their young patients’ anatomies. “From my perspective,” said Dr. Patel, “the more prepared we were, the less chance that anything was going to go wrong.  So we just prepared, and prepared, and prepared.”

The 3D anatomical model was created from medical imaging data sent from the hospital to 3D Systems’ engineers, who processed that data into a 3D image. In addition to the 3D digital models that were manipulated and discussed in a series of web meetings between 3D Systems’ engineers and the presiding medical team, this data was also 3D printed using 3D Systems’ stereolithography (SLA) technology. Once printed, the model could be sterilized and referenced within the operating room. The combination of the 3D printed model and online planning meetings helped Drs. Patel and Hopkins uncover new insights about their patients that they were unable to glean from MRI data alone. “I could actually physically see [the surgery] taking place,” said Dr. Patel. “And that’s pretty powerful.”

Read the full case study and watch the video below for more on the Hernandez-Torres twins’ surgery: