Patient Profile: A Rare Jem

Dog with deformed front legs smiles happily

When Jason Bleedorn first met Jem, he saw that the pup’s front legs “curved inward like a banana.”

A young rescue dog from Indiana, Jem had a bone deformity in both front legs, likely stemming from improperly developed growth plates. Kristen Jeppeson of All Breeds Rescue Angels (ABRA Inc.) took Jem to many different veterinarians, but hadn’t yet found a clinician who thought the condition could be fixed.

3D planning bone models with surgical cutting and alignment guides. Photo: Kirstin Laroche Photography (2)

That changed when the pair traveled to UW Veterinary Care to see Bleedorn, a clinical associate professor of surgical sciences. While the deformity was complex, he was determined to help.

After performing a CT scan of Jem’s legs, Bleedorn took the two-dimensional images, rendered a three-dimensional image, and used advanced computer-assisted design software to virtually design and plan 3D models for each of Jem’s many surgeries.

He used 3D printing technology in the Comparative Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the School of Veterinary Medicine to manufacture bone models for each leg. First, he used the models to rehearse various correction options for Jem’s deformity. Then, he 3D-printed custom cutting guides for surgery, which he sterilized and used in the operating room with Jem.

It was a long road to recovery, with extensive post-surgery care, but the dedication to Jem’s case from Jeppeson, ABRA and Bleedorn proved successful. Ultimately, after several surgeries, the bones healed, Jem started physical therapy, and he was adopted soon after.

orthopedic surgeon Jason Bleedorn used bone models to rehearse various correction options for Jem’s deformity
Bleedorn used 3D-printed bone models to rehearse correction options for Jem.

Bleedorn continues to help animals with orthopedic conditions similar to Jem’s and utilize 3D printing to produce patient-specific bone models for clinician use at UW Veterinary Care and across the country. He’s also conducting research to advance new discoveries and technology in the field, including innovations in fracture repair, joint surgery, bone deformity corrective procedures, and joint replacements.

What started as simply printing three-dimensional bone models to plan for and rehearse orthopedic surgeries quickly evolved into printing custom guides for use during those surgeries. Now, Bleedorn is exploring new ways to utilize 3D printing and plans to expand a collaboration with the Alloy Design and Development Laboratories in the College of Engineering.

“I am learning more and more with each research project and clinical case that I do,” he says. “It excites me to share these models and our understanding of a pet’s condition and do the best we can to correct it.”

By Rhiannon McCarthy, UW–Madison Grainger Institute for Engineering

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