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Shirley Anderson served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war. He bravely protected his fellow Americans and made it home without physical injury. That was until doctors discovered a “cancerous lump” on his tongue in 1998.  He received radiation and had multiple surgeries – all intended to help him heal him, but instead treatment destroyed his facial tissue. Now Anderson has something to cheer about thanks to 3-D printing technology.

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In 2012, he met Dr. Travis Bellicchi. Dr. Bellicchi had an idea about how to make the veteran feel like his old self again. Dr. Bellicchi, who specializes in maxillofacial prosthetics and is a resident at the Indiana University (IU) School of Dentistry, was determined to create an artificial jaw for Anderson but determined it would be a “huge challenge.”

“The prosthesis necessary to rehabilitate Shirley is larger than anything we’ve made here at Indiana University. In someone’s career, in my field, you may never be challenged with a prosthesis of this nature.”

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Dr. Bellicchi says that making an artificial jaw is different for every patient. Typically patients would wear a mold for an excess of 4 hours but because Anderson literally had no jaw, a mold wouldn’t work in his case.

So Dr. Bellicchi did something that has never been done before. He used a digital scanner and a 3D printer to create a mold for Anderson’s new prosthesis. To everyone’s surprise, it worked.

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“They really couldn’t believe how easy it was. They had been struggling to get the same results for a long time when they were using the traditional process.”

Anderson, who uses a white board for communication, says his life is finally going the way he wanted it to and Della, his wife, says the entire process was “worthwhile” — especially knowing that it’s helping others.

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The new process has helped six others that have the same condition regain their self-esteem. The creators of the new procedure have decided to name it after its first patient, “The Shirley Method.”