A Chinese toddler whose rare condition caused her head to swell four times its normal size is recovering after having her entire skull 3-D-printed, removed and replaced with titanium implants, Central European News (CEN) reported. Doctors predicted the 3-year-old girl would have died without the surgery.
Brave Han Han, of Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province, was born with congenital hydrocephalus, a condition marked by the buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, this type of hydrocephalus isn’t influenced by genetic abnormalities or events that occur during fetal development.
In Han Han, the condition caused her head to swell by nearly 8 square inches and weigh more than half her entire body weight. Her large skull led to poor blood supply, severe pressure in her head and the formation of ulcers on thin portions of her head.
Although doctors warned that the girl’s skull could rupture at any moment, Han Han’s family was not able to pay for her surgery upon her diagnosis at 6 months old. Doctors estimated her surgery would cost between about $64,000 and $95,000, according to CEN.
Her single father, Chen Youzhi, worked to pay for the anti-inflammatory drugs she needed, but the little girl’s head eventually grew so heavy that she couldn’t lift it.
As the weight squeezed her opic nerve, Han Han’s condition was on the verge of blinding her. In September 2014, she became bedridden.
As Han Han’s family begged and borrowed one-fifth of the cost for her surgery from relatives and friends, an online fundraising campaign eventually raised the funds necessary for the life-saving procedure, which doctors described as “whole-brain-shrinking plastic surgery.”
When she arrived at the hospital, a CT scan showed that 80 percent of her brain had been filled with water.
"The first step was to eliminate the infection in Han Han’s head, after which we did a skin graft and inserted a shunt to help remove the fluid inside,” one of her doctors, named only as Dr. Bo, of the Second People’s Hospital of Hunan Province, told CEN.
After repositiong her brain and removing the excess cerebrospinal fluid, doctors used 3-D printing to reconstruct Han Han’s skull and implant the new skull using three titanium mesh implants, which replaced the entire top portion of her head. The surgery took 17 hours total, CEN reported.
Han Han is expected to make a full recovery, as doctors said her normal bone growth will cover the titanium implants to form a new, smaller top portion of her skull.