A neurosurgeon in Australia successfully completed the world's first surgical removal of malignant vertebrae with a subsequent transplant of a 3D-printed titanium replacement. The historical operation of cancer patient Drage Josevski in December 2015 lasted a total of 15 hours.

Neurosurgeon Ralph Mobbs is from New South Wales' Sydney Spine Clinic. When he conducted the operation, it was unclear whether Josevski would survive. The procedure involved exposure of the neck's top part where it meets the head.

"It's essentially [detaching] the patient's head from his neck and taking the tumor out and reattaching his head back to his neck," said Mobbs.

Josevski was diagnosed with chordoma, a rare cancer type that can occur at any point along the spine. Unfortunately, Josevski's chordoma occurred at the top of two vertebrae which makes his prognosis less optimistic.

Without treatment or surgery, Josevski risks losing the functions of his legs and arms gradually. He can also gradually lose the capacity to eat and breathe.

For the historical procedure, Mobbs designed a 3D-printed titanium vertebrae to replace the malignant one. The surgery was successful and the replacement vertebrae fit well.

However, Josevski is having difficulty speaking and eating but the patient is expected to recover within half a year's time. The unexpected complications are due to the prolonged exposure and stretching of the mouth during the 15-hour operation.

"3D printing of body parts is the next phase of individualized health care," said Mobbs. Anatomics, a Victorian company, designed and manufactured Joveski's titanium implant.

Joveski's cancer was first picked up during a family trip to Macedonia. His daughter Tanya Josevska explained that her father struggled with the diagnosis, not knowing what the operation's results would be.

Tanya shared that despite the doctors' explanations, Josevski didn't know if he would die during the operation or what complications will come with it. Tanya and the rest of the family are optimistic about their father's future despite the complications.

Josevki pushed through with the operation because he was excited to be at his daughter's wedding. The family is truly grateful to the surgical team who conducted the historical operation.

Photo: Lucy Lambriex | Flickr

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