Rhett Bausmith has had doctors poking and probing his skull since his birth May 1, 2015, when he was born with a misshapen head.

He had craniosynostosis, a birth defect that causes the bones in a baby’s skull to fuse too early. His parents, Timothy and Crystal Bausmith, were referred to MUSC Health, where a plastic surgeon and a pediatric neurosurgeon joined forces to tackle what was one of the more complicated cases they had seen. Weighing it on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Ulm stops to consider.

“It was a 9.”

He and pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ramin Eskandari decided to treat Rhett in two surgeries, spaced apart, and have MUSC’s bioprinting labs create 3-D skulls for both operations to map out the procedure.

One of the skulls from the first surgery is quite the conversation piece in its glass box in the Bausmiths’ living room. Crystal says she shows everybody, because it’s amazing how much progress they’ve made. It’s progress that has included not only the two operations but also Rhett having to wear a helmet to shape his head. The first surgery, August 21, 2015, focused on relieving pressure on Rhett's brain and included a barrel stave osteotomy, where cuts in a crisscross pattern are made in the skull. The second surgery, August 22, 2016, targeted removing the frontal bone and reconstructing the forehead and eye area.

Rhett’s surgeons will be speaking at an upcoming joint conference of the American Society of Pediatric Neurosurgery and the American Society of Craniofacial Surgeons about the advantages of mapping out pediatric surgeries with 3-D skulls. The bioprinted skulls slice in a way that's similar to bone, so surgeons can practice on a replica of a patient's skull created using his or her scans.

In the end, it means children such as Rhett can do what they are born to do, without being ridiculed for a misshapen face, or even worse, having developmental delays. They’ve been able to get the head shape they wanted and better eye alignment, and best of all, brain growth has not been impaired. Developmentally, Rhett’s right on track.

Toddler charms doctors who treated complicated birth defect by Dawn Brazell in the Newsroom

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3-d model, patient story, rhett