For the first time in nearly three decades, Tammy Wilkes is able to walk with dramatically less pain. That’s because, in November 2018, podiatrist Jonathan Sharpe, DPM, replaced the severely injured talus bone in Tammy’s right ankle with a custom, 3D-printed prosthesis. It was the first time a 3D-printed talus was used at Lake Health.*
At the age of 17, Tammy was hit by a car and her lower right leg bones (the tibia and fibula) were badly broken. Sadly, surgeries using pins and screws to repair the bones left her leg crooked and her foot misaligned. To compensate for her leg-to-foot misalignment, Tammy had to adjust the way she walked.
“The talus bone connects the leg bones and foot bones at the ankle,” says Dr. Sharpe. “It’s critical in allowing normal foot and ankle motion. With the misalignment, every step Tammy took put an unnatural strain on her ankle.”
Her foot and leg ached constantly. Over time she experienced back pain as well as ankle sprains and fractures. Despite surgeries in 2010, 2016 and 2017 to straighten her foot and repair tendons and ligaments, her condition worsened.
In 2018, an MRI showed that more than half of her talus bone had died from the lack of blood supply―a condition known as avascular necrosis―caused by the injuries. Additionally, the bone was collapsing causing debilitating pain.
“Traditionally, the treatment for this would have been to fuse the ankle. But that leaves the patient with a stiff ankle and limited movement and function,” explains Dr. Sharpe. “Tammy was the perfect candidate for this new 3D-printed talus replacement, which allows near normal ankle function.”
Tammy, age 47, is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University and, looking toward her future, wanted to maintain as much movement in her ankle as possible. After researching all her options, she decided to go with the 3D-printed prosthesis.
In the one-hour surgery performed at TriPoint Medical Center, Dr. Sharpe removed Tammy’s collapsed talus and replaced it with a prosthesis that perfectly replicated her original bone. The cobalt-chrome talus was 3D-printed by Additive Orthopaedics―actually building the prosthetic bone on a printer―based on CT scans of Tammy’s diseased ankle as well as her healthy ankle. It weighs less than a pound.
Tammy’s recovery from this surgery has been faster than previous surgeries. Physical therapy helped her regain full movement and increase stability in her ankle. Soft tissue massage and cupping helped reduce swelling, and aquatic therapy has accelerated her progress and improved her leg strength.
“I’m so grateful for Dr. Sharpe’s expertise and compassionate care. The results of this surgery have been remarkable. Now I can navigate steps and uneven ground, and sometimes I walk without any pain at all!” – Tammy
* Lake Health is one of the few health systems in Ohio to offer this innovative procedure.