Innovative 3D ankle implant helps Susan walk away with hope - Patient story

Innovative 3D Ankle Implant Helps Susan Walk Away with Hope - Patient Story

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Dr Paul Cooper poses for a photo with a patient who underwent successful orthopedic surgery and received an ankle implant.

After a car accident in 2007 left her with severe lower-extremity injuries, Susan Bonhag thought she’d never walk without the assistance of equipment.

As a result of the accident, Susan, a mother of three young children, had extensive damage to both ankles that required complicated reconstruction surgeries and tireless commitment to rehabilitation. Accustomed to living an active lifestyle, she wasn’t ready to accept her new circumstances, but Susan thought she was out of options.

“Nobody was willing to listen,” she recalls. Her injuries were considerable, and doctors offered few solutions. Many shook their heads at her goal of someday walking freely.

But all of that changed when, by chance, Susan’s dermatologist recommended she make an appointment with Paul Cooper, MD, division chief of the Foot and Ankle Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “He was the first doctor that listened to anything I had to say,” she says.

“He was the only one who didn’t look at my case as, ‘This is the end,’ and I’ll never forget that.”

Specializing in salvage and revision surgery, Dr. Cooper assessed Susan’s condition and worked with her to stabilize her injuries and personalize a treatment plan. “We discussed, realistically, what our options were,” says Dr. Cooper. “I said, ‘Susan, we’re going to find a solution.’ ”

After two traditional implant surgeries on her right ankle, she was still unable to walk with full functionality and continued to experience pain. But Dr. Cooper was determined to help her walk independently again.

Engaged in the latest research, the Foot and Ankle Center at MedStar Georgetown has a long history of improving patients’ mobility through innovative technologies and treatments. Tapping into these resources, Dr. Cooper turned to a medical technique that was gaining traction in orthopaedics.

“Along came this new technology that uses titanium dust, and similar to an ink-jet printer, prints out a three-dimensional object,” says Dr. Cooper. “And, naturally, this method migrated to orthopaedic implants.”

Susan’s injuries made her an ideal candidate for the innovative procedure, and Dr. Cooper suggested they move forward with the process.

“We can now make a custom implant to address any individual’s unique deficits,” says Dr. Cooper. “And that’s what we went ahead and did for Susan.”

To begin, Susan had a CT scan of her ankle, and Dr. Cooper took measurements for a customized implant. Next, the implant was created on a 3D printer and surgically inserted in her ankle during a one-hour procedure.

“These patient-specific custom implants are really the future of medicine,” Dr. Cooper says. “We can have the whole process done—start to finish—in a month, which is revolutionary.”

The subsequent rehabilitation was intensive. She had to wear a cast and attend physical therapy for four months. But she says it was well worth it.

“One year after, I went on two European river trips,” she says. “I did the tours, I walked—I was thrilled.”

It’s been four years since Susan’s implant surgery, and she credits Dr. Cooper and the team for her recovery. She expresses her gratitude for the care she received and encourages those in similar situations to take advantage of all that MedStar Georgetown offers to patients.

“They’re going to take care of you,” Susan says.

The Foot and Ankle Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is part of the MedStar Orthopaedic Institute, with more than 45 orthopaedic surgeons at 15 locations throughout Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and Virginia.

Visit, or call 202-444-8766 to make an appointment.

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