A South African professor has become the first person to perform a 3D middle ear surgery. His name is Prof. Mashudu Tshifularo. He is the head of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology (the study of the ear, nose, and throat) at the University of Pretoria (UP), and is widely recognised as one of the best ENT specialists in the country.
Prof. Tshifularo grew up as a herdsman in the village of Mbahela outside Thohoyandou in Venda. At the age of 13, Prof. Tshifularo already knew he would be a doctor. He was determined to be a doctor that would leave a lasting impression on the world, and this very month, he accomplished just that by becoming the first person ever to perform a middle ear surgery with the help of 3D technology. This achievement breaks new ground in modern medicine.
Though Tshifularo is the first person to become a professor in his family, he is not the only doctor. Born in a family of six, he says all of them are academics, thanks to his mother who valued education. "There are currently 7 doctors in the family," he says.
The surgery was performed by Prof. Tshifularo and his team at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria. The surgery involved the transplantation of 3D-printed hammer, anvil, stirrup on 40-year Thabo Moshiliwa who had his hearing affected after a car accident.
The hammer, anvil, and stirrup are also known as the malleus, incus, and stapes respectively, and collectively as the "middle ear ossicles". The middle ear ossicles are the smallest bones in the human body. The transplantation procedure is a long-term solution to conductive hearing loss and it can be done on anyone regardless of age.
Prof. Tshifularo explained they take a scan before recreating the bones. The bones they create with 3D printing have to be the same in size, weight, length, position, and shape as the middle ear ossicles. The implant works in the same manner as a hip replacement. “By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedures," said Prof. Tshifularo.
The surgery on Moshiliwa took an hour and a half to complete since trauma to the patient's ear complicated the operation. The surgery was a success and a second patient, 62-year-old Simon Bohale, is in line to receive transplantation as well. Simon, a welder whose occupation contributed to his hearing loss, has an underdeveloped middle ear. His condition worsened in 1983. "I am excited," Simon said, "I have had two surgeries before but it was not 100% okay. I cannot wait to hear people when they speak to me.”
Header Image Credit: Rudzani Matshili