“A teenager who shattered his skull falling from a cliff at Cape Byron in northern New South Wales will undergo surgery to have a piece of 3D printing fitted to his damaged skull.
Fifteen-year-old Connor Meldrum will undergo the surgery at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane this week.
The custom-printed section of skull is made of a high-density porous polyethylene material that mimics the properties of living bone.
Mater Hospital neurosurgeon Rob Campbell said the technology was world class.
“It mimics natural bone with its elastic capability and strength, allowing tissue to grow in and incorporate the implant to the skull,” Dr Campbell said.
The technology has been developed by a Melbourne-based biomedical company and commercialised in the past year with the help a Federal Government grant.
Disaster leads to journey of hope and recovery
Connor’s journey began while he was hanging out with his friend Scott in Byron Bay on a sunny Saturday in March.
The boys made an impulsive decision to climb around the Cape Byron headland.
They soon found themselves in a position where it was too steep to go back down.
The shale cliff gave way and Connor fell 15 metres onto the rocks below.
Scott managed to call triple zero, then clung to the rock face for three hours, while two fishermen who saw Connor fall went to the boys’ assistance until a rescue helicopter arrived.
Meanwhile, Connor’s mum Kim Goodrick had been trying to call him, and resorted to a phone app to track his location.
“I just knew something had happened to him.”
Life-saving emergency surgery
Dr Campbell described Connor’s injuries as devastating and life-threatening.
One side of his skull was shattered, driving bone fragments into the left side of his brain.
Dr Campbell said a decision by emergency surgeons at the Gold Coast Hospital to leave Connor’s skull open, allowing his brain to swell outwards, saved the teenager’s life.
Connor’s dad David Meldrum said the first days, when Connor remained in a coma, were the darkest time.
“At this stage we weren’t even sure if Connor would survive, and if he did survive, he had done an awful lot of damage to his brain,” Mr Meldrum said.
But over the past three months, Connor’s progress has astounded everyone.
His parents felt the first ray of hope when he emerged from his coma and his first word was an entirely appropriate expletive, given the circumstances.
His ability to speak, read and play the piano have all returned.
The team working on Connor’s ongoing rehabilitation believe part of his progress can be attributed to his determination.
“He never ceases to amaze us,” speech therapist Nicola Hilton said.
“I guess he puts in 150 per cent.”
Like any mum, Ms Goodrick is just happy to still have her son.
“From the worst possible situation, I think we have the best possible outcome,” she said.”