3D printer makes parts for ankle replacement surgery

Procedure helps patients walk without pain

SAN ANTONIO – Arthritic ankles can make it nearly impossible for sufferers to walk. A 3D printer is taking the pain out of the joint and giving patients a much easier stride.

Bettye Dube said she had sprained her ankle before, but a stumble while on vacation in Jamaica was something she'd never experienced.

"We had been there two days and I fell and just thought I had a broken ankle and there was no orthopedic doctor on the island," Dube said.

She later learned she had crushed her ankle. Dube spent months in a cast, then a boot and underwent physical therapy, but didn't get better.

She met Dr. Marvin Brown, who suggested ankle replacement surgery.

"We don't resurface the fibula joint, but we do resurface the other two joints and the blank spot, there's a piece of plastic there to keep metal from rubbing on metal," Brown said.

He replaced the whole ankle with a high-tech prosthetic called INBONE. It's aligned in the center of the tibia. A 3D printer makes the instruments that help doctors align the implant.

"As time went by, we became better at understanding the mechanics of the ankle and so, modern prosthesis have a better natural mechanics to them. Which allows them to survive longer," Brown said.

Dube said she got her life back.

"I was walking. I was able to walk. There was no pain particularly," Dube said. "It was a very successful surgery."

Dube can't wear high heels anymore. If she keeps pressure off the ankle by avoiding high-impact exercise and watches her weight, the new ankle should last 10 years.

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