Belinda Gatland (left) and Sebastian Giede during a press conference held to unveil the region’s fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg at Dubai Health Authority’s headquarters on Wednesday. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: A Dubai resident has this week received the region’s first-ever fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg, a new innovation that could soon slash in half prices of costly conventional prosthetics.

After a horse racing accident in the UK in her early 20s, Belinda Gatland, a British expat, would suffer for nearly two decades. Her left leg had twisted, and her bones below her knee had shattered “to smithereens”.

Necrosis, or the premature death of tissue or bone cells, then set in, leaving her in agony.

At the age of 40, after nine fruitless operations, she finally opted to have the leg amputated.

Then, as the muscles near her knee began to shrink and have atrophy, she had to wear countless new conventional prosthetics. In the UK, only basic prosthetics are provided to amputees by the government’s health service.

Belinda Gatland’s prosthetic leg was made in Germany and Bulgaria in separate parts and fitted in Dubai. Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

In order to maintain an active lifestyle, she had to privately pay for new prosthetic legs from her own pocket.

“It’s an expensive thing to be an amputee,” Gatland said.

Limb of hope

Earlier this week, she was fitted in the UAE with the region’s first fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg.

The leg was paid for by Informa, the firm that organised the Arab Health medical mega-forum back in Dubai in January, along with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

The leg, which was made in Germany and Bulgaria in separate parts and fitted in Dubai, costs far less than a traditional sculpted prosthetic.

However, as 3D prosthetics are still in a prototype stage, the donors declined to say how much the leg had cost.

With more than 20 years of experience in the field, Sebastian Giede, Certified Orthopaedic Prosthetist with Mediclinic, worked with the fully 3D-printed device for the first time. “The potential of 3D printing in the field of prosthetic devices is huge,” said Giede, who fitted Gatland’s leg.

“It allows for faster turnaround times, more personalisation in terms of both design and functionality, as well as great flexibility when it comes to replacement.”

In the UAE, a conventional prosthetic leg can cost anywhere from Dh20,000, Giede said. But for amputees who want to maintain an active lifestyle and play sports, costs can run to Dh60,000-80,000.

But for a 3D-printed prosthetic with the same functionality as the high-end conventional ones, the cost goes down to around Dh40,000-50,000, Giede added.

Although Gatland has worn her 3D-printed prosthetic for less than a week, she seems satisfied.

“This new technology is unbelievable,” she said. “I’m really impressed with the foot I’ve got. It feels very real, and it’s very comfortable.”

The DHA counts the donated prosthetic as part of its initiatives for the UAE’s nationwide Year of Giving — and a step towards the future.

“The DHA has prioritised fostering the development of future technologies such as 3D printing in health care,” said Humaid Al Qutami, chairman of the board and director-general of DHA, speaking at a Wednesday press conference.

“We are keen to bring in the latest technology in medicine to further bolster patient-centric care and improve the lives of our patients to the best extent possible.”