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How bereaved parents became ‘accidental world leaders’ in 3D printing

  • 9th May 2018

Naveed and Samiya Parvez built a business so that other families wouldn’t have to suffer what they did.

The couple set up healthcare service Andiamo following the death of their nine-year-old son, Diamo. Diamo had cerebral palsy and relied on braces and splints, known as orthoses, to support and protect his body. The process of getting fitted for orthoses caused Diamo and his family so much distress that Naveed and Samiya became determined to find an alternative.

The method involved making a plaster of paris mould of the area of the body requiring a brace. Diamo, who died from complications in 2012, required orthoses for his hands, back, hips and ankles. Appointments and fittings for the braces took place in different locations and were conducted by different medical teams. Most of the time the braces didn’t fit him properly, which put Diamo and his family in a perpetual cycle of going back for re-fittings. “If he didn’t have [orthoses] it meant, because he couldn’t control his body or sit upright, he couldn’t be fed properly or fit in his wheelchair, which meant he couldn’t go to school and we couldn’t leave the house. All these massive knock on effects, all for what is pretty simplistically a piece of plastic,” says Naveed.

The procedure for being measured for orthoses was a harrowing experience for Diamo. Naveed had to restrain him to keep him still while cold plaster was wrapped around him – a process that takes an hour.

“He went blue in the face screaming when they did this to him. You’re pinning a child down who is non-communicative,” he says. “You’d be horrified doing that to an adult – doing that to a kid who has no idea what is happening to them is even worse.”

It would then take three to six months for the orthoses to be created on the NHS, by which point Diamo would have grown, so the fit was rarely a good one.

The family also tried private healthcare services, which could create the orthoses within six weeks, but used the same plaster cast process and so were just as unreliable in terms of fit. Private treatment was also prohibitively expensive, with one brace, which would be outgrown within nine months, costing around £5,000.

The procedure for being measured for orthoses was a harrowing experience for Diamo. Naveed had to restrain him to keep him still while cold plaster was wrapped around him – a process that takes an hour.

“He went blue in the face screaming when they did this to him. You’re pinning a child down who is non-communicative,” he says. “You’d be horrified doing that to an adult – doing that to a kid who has no idea what is happening to them is even worse.”

It would then take three to six months for the orthoses to be created on the NHS, by which point Diamo would have grown, so the fit was rarely a good one.

The family also tried private healthcare services, which could create the orthoses within six weeks, but used the same plaster cast process and so were just as unreliable in terms of fit. Private treatment was also prohibitively expensive, with one brace, which would be outgrown within nine months, costing around £5,000.

The measurement process involves moving a handheld 3D scanner over the body for about a minute. The scan is much more accurate than a plaster cast – and the whole process is even fun, according to Naveed: “Kids love it. Either they want to watch what’s going on, because it’s cool and interesting, or they’re watching a cartoon on their tablet while we quickly scan them, and they’re just completely oblivious.” The 3D-printed orthosis is lighter and less cumbersome than a traditional brace, is ready within a week, and costs approximately £1,500.

Since Andiamo launched, other companies offering 3D-printed orthoses have emerged, such as Plus Medica, but Naveed says Andiamo is the only service of its type focused on paediatrics. “We designed the whole process around the family’s experience,” says Naveed.

After getting by on grants and small amounts of sponsorship from the likes of Dell and IBM, Andiamo recently received £1.7m in funding from NCL Technology Ventures, Alfabeat investments and WeWork, $500,000 (£367,000) of which they received for being a finalist at the WeWork Creator awards. A report by Industry Arc, a specialist market research company, estimates that the global custom-made-orthotics market is growing at 7.3% each year, and will be worth £2.7bn by 2020.

Naveed and Samiya, who currently have 30 patients and have delivered 160 orthoses to date, now plan to expand. “Our goal is to see at least another 100 new patients in the next 18 months,” says Naveed. Orthoses have broad applications across the medical world, such as in healing complex fractures, so Andiamo’s potential is huge. Naveed and Samiya hope to treat 15 million children over the next 10 years.

“We couldn’t really think of a better way of remembering Diamo than being able to create a legacy that means that no other child or family has to go through what we did,” says Naveed. “That bloody-mindedness just pushed us through.”

Source: The Guardian

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