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Musician back to drumming after 3D printed ankle replacement from MedStar Health

Posted at 4:43 PM, Jun 10, 2021

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Music is Kamonte Johnson’s life.

"I really love what I do. Playing drums is the only thing I have," said Johnson.

He’s been playing in the marching band since he was 8. Now he’s studying music industry at Frostburg State University.

"I want to be a musician," said Johnson.

But an ankle injury from high school track made things difficult.

"Jazz was out the picture for a long time," said Johnson.

Over time, his pain got worse and worse, until last summer when he reached his breaking point… marching in a parade.

"After that parade, I could not walk at all," said Johnson.

That’s when he went to see MedStar orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Walter Hembree, who confirmed how serious it was.

"The cartilage in my ankle was completely gone. My bone in my ankle was dying from lack of blood flow," said Johnson.

His talus was fragmenting and collapsing from avascular necrosis. The talus bone is critical to the function of the ankle: it bears the weight of the entire body, and joins the two leg bones to the foot. He had three options: amputation, a fusion, which would inhibit motion...

"That would have been very devastating for him to undergo an ankle fusion. It would have made it very difficult for him to play," said Dr. Hembree.

Or become the first MedStar Health patient to get a total talus replacement with a 3D printed implant.

"We’re able to do a CT scan, which is 3-dimensional imaging, special x-ray imaging of the opposite the healthy foot and based off that, the engineers can model a metal replacement talus bone that exactly matching Kamonte's anatomy," said Dr. Hembree.

Before 3D printing, talus replacements were not custom matched to the patient and were difficult to size.

"This technology is a game changer," said Dr. Hembree.

6 months after that surgery, he’s still recovering.

"I’m still getting in the flow of things after the surgery," said Johnson.

Because it’s a newer technology, Dr. Hembree said there aren’t long term studies on how it will hold up.

"There’s always the possibility that over time this implant could wear out and we have to come back and revise to another type of implant, another type of replacement," said Dr. Hembree.

But in the meantime, he gets to do what he loves.

"I’m glad that I chose to get the surgery," said Johnson.

Johnson only wishes he had addressed the pain sooner, gotten a second opinion back in high school, so that he wouldn't have needed the replacement.

Dr. Hembree said the sky is really the limit for this technology. It’s been used for other types of replacements too, like the pelvis and tibia.