Reconstructive surgery on the human nose isn’t uncommon, but until now, doctors in the United States haven’t been able to replicate and restore the body part to its full functionality. Dallan Jennet, a 14-year-old boy from the Marshall Islands, a country that lies near the equator in the Pacific Ocean, is the first patient in the U.S. to undergo a procedure that does just that.
Jennet’s face became disfigured when he fell onto a live power line at age 9. Earlier this year he flew to New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, in New York City, to undergo multiple surgeries that would restore his sense of smell and taste.
“The procedure is akin to a ‘nose transplant’ in that we were able to replace the nose with a functional implant,” lead physician Tal Dagan, associate adjunct surgeon, said in a Mount Sinai blog post. “This procedure may be a breakthrough in facial reconstruction because the patient will never have to deal with the standard issues of transplantation, such as tissue rejection or a lifetime of immunosuppressive therapies.”
Jennet’s first procedure, in early 2015, took place in the Marshall Islands, where doctors input expanders under the remaining skin of his nose to make room for the reconstructed body part.
Benicia, Calif.-based nonprofit Canvasback Missions Inc., an organization that provides health care and health education to the Pacific Islands, funded Jennet and his mother’s travel and medical expenses to New York. To carry out the subsequent surgeries, Dagan and Dr. Grigoriy Mashkevich, assistant professor of Otolaryngology, Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Mount Sinai, collaborated with Oxford Performance Materials Inc., a Windsor, Connecticut-based 3-D printing company.
The team created Jennet’s 3-D nose graft by replicating the structure of his family’s noses. For the first 16-hour operation in New York, doctors used a laser-based technology to analyze his skin. According to the blog post, next, they harvested blood vessels and tissues from the boy’s thigh, removed excess scar tissue, inserted the graft, and reconstructed the skin over the 3-D implant. They carried out four more surgeries, and Jennet attended follow-up appointments between June and October.
The surgeries were successful, and doctors said the 3-D printed implant will grow with him— preventing the need for additional reconstructive procedures.
“We believe that this procedure will allow the patient to live a happy and productive life,” Mashkevich said in the blog post. “We also hope that this approach will be a viable option for others with severe facial deformities who require reconstructive surgery.”