Jem, lovingly nicknamed “Wonky Legs”, is a young rescue dog in Indiana with a bone deformity in both front legs, likely due to an issue with his growth plates. Jem’s caretaker, Kristen Jeppeson of All Breed Rescue Angels (ABRA Inc.), took Jem to many different veterinarians, all of whom suggested it would be impossible to fix, or even not worth fixing. Then Jem met Jason Bleedorn, clinical associate professor of surgical sciences at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, who observed that the pup’s front legs “curved inward like a banana”. While this was a complex deformity, Bleedorn was determined to help.
“It always amazes me to see what lengths people will go for their loved pets,” says Bleedorn.
After performing a CT scan of Jem’s legs, Bleedorn took the two-dimensional images, rendered a three-dimensional image, and used advanced computer-assisted design (CAD) software to virtually design and plan 3D models for each of Jem’s many surgeries.
Bleedorn used 3D printing technology in the Comparative Orthopedic Research Laboratory to manufacture bone models for each leg. First, he used the models to rehearse various correction options for Jem’s deformity. Then, he 3D printed custom cutting guides, which he sterilized and used in the operating room.
From the first surgery to raising the funds to Jem’s post-surgery care, it was a long road for Jeppeson and the ABRA rescue group. But Jeppeson’s and Bleedorn’s dedication to Jem’s case proved widely successful: ultimately, after several surgeries, the bones healed, Jem started physical therapy, and he was adopted soon after!
Bleedorn continues to help animals with issues similar to Jem’s, spending some of his time in the clinic caring for dogs and cats with orthopedic conditions. He’s also conducting research to advance new discoveries and technology in the field, including innovations in fracture repair, joint surgery, bone deformity corrective procedures, and joint replacements, and continues to utilize 3D printing to produce patient-specific bone models—even printing pre-surgery models for clinician use at UW Veterinary Medicine and across the country.
What started as simply printing three-dimensional bone models to plan for and rehearse orthopedic surgeries, quickly evolved into printing custom guides for use during those surgeries. Now, Bleedorn is exploring new ways to utilize 3D printing in his work. In fact, he’s looking to expand a new collaboration with the Alloy Design and Development Laboratories in the College of Engineering. “I am learning more and more with each research project and clinical case that I do,” he says. “It excites me to share these models and our understanding of a pet’s condition and do the best we can to correct it.”
Author: Rhiannon McCarthy